Intra-Arab tourism 'to double in a decade'

Melhem ... Discover Arabia call.

Intra-Arab tourism is likely to double within a decade and hotels, governments and all aspects of the travel industry need to be fully prepared, says a Dubai-based hotelier.

Sheraton Deira Hotel and Towers general manager Abdullah Melhem also urged Arab holidaymakers to experience the delights of their own region to the full "before heading east or west".

"Six per cent of worldwide tourism is the current share of this region - obviously with the bigger pieces of the pie going to Tunisia, Egypt and UAE at this stage," says Melhem.

"I see Arab countries' tourism figures doubling in 10 years from now. The young generation is well informed about travel and very keen to discover more."

He cited the success of the recently-completed annual Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) as just one of the region's family-oriented events that brings about a surge in tourism.

Dubai has invested Dh2.6 billion ($708 million) in the travel and tourism industry, 85 per cent of that being in hotels. The emirate is aiming to attract six million tourists by 2010.

Melhem, who has also served as general manager at leading properties in Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Yemen, called on regional governments to streamline red tape, particularly visa restrictions - but not at the expense of security - to make it easier for Arab tourists to enter other Arab countries.

"Visas on arrival between UAE and Oman for residing expatriates is a good idea and very convenient for non-GCC Arabs living in the Gulf when they're wondering where to spend their weekends," he said.

"As well, visas on arrival for GCC nationals going with their families and maids to - Lebanon and Jordan, help attract more families to those destinations."

Recent figures show that Arab countries are attracting some 25 million tourists between them each year. The general tourism growth rate for 2000 in the Middle East was up 14 per cent on 1999.

Melhem says: "Greater priority needs to be given to upgrading infrastructure to facilitate intercommunication between the Arab countries - we can then have lunch in Beirut and dinner in Cairo!"

He urged Arab travellers to "know your Arab countries first" before exploring other destinations.

"New generations and families must discover the surrounding countries and learn more about the unique tourism attractions before heading East or West on the globe," he said.

"Efforts to promote Dubai are in evidence the moment you enter the airport and can be seen all the time during your stay. In 1995, Dubai had the vision to offer its 45 degrees summer to tourists - hotels' occupancy levels in summer went up more than 70 per cent. A major percentage are Arab travellers.

Arab guests demand the highest standards nowadays, according to Melhem.