Good times ahead says UNWTO

Rifai (centre) with other officials

DESPITE events of the Arab Spring, and potential uncertainty in the wake of austerity measures in key source European markets, there is a bright future ahead for tourism in the Middle East and North Africa, according to a consensus of delegates at the first United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and Arabian Travel Market (ATM) industry forum.

The summit, which took place at ATM on April 30, is now set to become an annual feature.

Speaking at the forum, UNWTO secretary-general Taleb Rifai called the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region a “tourism success story in the first decade of the 21st century”, with the majority of markets already showing a strong rebound following the challenges of the last 12 months. Rifai also shared some insight into the regional situation and gave a positive prognosis for the future. “We are very impressed by the rate of recovery of some of the most affected countries in the region. Countries that were directly affected, like Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen, saw a downturn of 80 to 85 per cent as political events unfolded, but minimised their losses considerably in 2011, closing the year down by 25 to 30 per cent.”

While UNWTO statistics recorded the loss of an estimated seven million tourists across the region last year, the organisation is projecting a seven per cent annual growth rate over the next 20 years with visitor totals hitting 195 million by 2030, up from 79 million in 2010.

Looking ahead, Rifai identified certain destinations as ‘ones to watch’. “There are a number of attractive untouched destinations that need a lot of investment, such as Libya and Algeria. These are sleeping giants” he said.