Regional co-operation key for mutual success

Ministers gather at UNWTO & ATM Ministerial Forum

The UNWTO Ministerial Forum held at last month’s Arabian Travel Market 2015 saw 20 Middle Eastern tourism ministers and private sector leaders agree on the need for an intra-Arab tourism strategy to increase the number of tourists travelling between the countries of the region.

Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development and Chairman of the National Council of Tourism and Antiquities opened the forum by calling for a collaborative tourism strategy to push forward intra-Arab tourism.

He referred to cooperation between the Arab countries with regard to practices, procedures and policies that cover religious, historical and sustainable tourism to eliminate barriers, improve ease of travel and using tourism to improve the standard of living for nationals.

The panel of the region’s private and public sector leaders at the forum discussed a number of topics to be part of the strategy, including a GCC visa, similar to the European Schengen visa to allow easy cross-border access for both the region’s national and expatriate residents, and an Open Skies agreement to increase air capacity between Arab countries.

Regarding a GCC-wide visa, World Travel and Tourism Council, President and CEO David Scowsill recommended the expansion of automated and electronic visas in the region, an idea endorsed by tourism ministers from within and outside the GCC including Bahrain, Jordan and Morocco.

UNWTO research suggests that within the Middle East, around 40 per cent of tourists come from within the region compared to other parts of the world such as Europe where this total is more than 60 per cent – leaving considerable scope to grow this ‘domestic’  traffic.

Research by YouGov reinforces the fact that residents in the region are taking more regional trips, emphasising the potential to lock in to this market to boost year-round travel figures.

The newly released Travel Oracle – Aviation Insights report showed that two-fifths of Middle East and North Africa (Mena) residents (41 per cent) took one or more short-haul leisure trips in the last 12 months, with 12 per cent taking three or more trips by air - additionally, more than one-third of Mena residents (36 per cent) are planning to increase their leisure travel over the next year, with 15 per cent anticipating a big growth in outbound travel, according to the YouGov data.

Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the UNWTO, concluded the ministerial forum by recommending the region’s tourism industry develop more packages that cross country borders, highlighting the cruise sector as an example of how this is already working. 

He also urged the region to make the most of the spotlight it will receive from both Dubai 2020 and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.


Nepal wins New Frontiers

In a show of international cooperation, Arabian Travel Market (ATM), named Nepal as the recipient of the New Frontiers Recovery Award 2015 at a special presentation.

Accepting the award from Nadege Noblet-Segers, exhibition manager, Arabian Travel Market, on behalf of the Nepal Tourism Board, Rishav Agarwal, co-owner of Kathmandu-based Nebuti Travels, said that the industry response over the last three days at ATM had been “incredible”, with visitors to the stand asking for detailed situation updates and also pledging continued support.

Nepal was shortlisted along with Japan and India, each of which suffered significant human and economic losses in the last 12 months due to devastating natural catastrophes, namely the Mount Ontake eruption in Japan and Malin landslide in India.

“Although the original decision was made to recognise Nepal following last year’s Sunkoshi River landslide, which resulted in both loss of life and loss of tourism revenues, this has obviously been surpassed by the catastrophic events of last month,” said Noblet.

Now in its 11th year, the New Frontiers Recovery Award was created in 2005 to recognise outstanding contributions to tourism development in the face of overwhelming adversity, supporting the chosen destination by donating exhibition space at the event to the value of $10,000.

Previous award recipients include Phuket, Thailand; Cancun, Mexico; Sichuan, China; Baluchistan, Pakistan; Central Visayas, Philippines; and Northern India.