World tourism slows while Middle East gains momentum


ALTHOUGH a slowdown is anticipated within the worldwide travel and tourism industry this year, the prospects are bright.

Already it is the world's largest generator of jobs employing around 231 million people worldwide and generating more than 10 per cent of world GDP. It is also an industry expecting to generate close to $8 trillion in 2008, rising to approximately $15 trillion over the next 10 years.
At the World Travel and Tourism Summit heads of government, cabinet ministers and the chairmen and CEOs of 100 of the world’s leading travel and tourism companies and members of the council converged in Dubai in April to discussed global tourism issues.
WTTC president Jean-Claude Baumgarten spoke to TTN’s CLARK KELLY before the start of the conference.

As global growth in travel and tourism slows down, the Middle East sees an increase. Do you see this trend continuing?
Our TSA model shows that Real GDP growth for the travel and tourism economy in the Middle East is expected to be 7 per cent in 2008, a figure well above the world average growth rate (3 per cent). Furthermore we forecast that the Middle East will average an impressive growth rate of 3.9 per cent per annum over the coming 10 years. So although the next 10 years will not be as impressive as 2008, growth is still forecasted to remain at a healthy level for the next 10 years.

What are the key factors driving this growth?
The economic development in the region is allowing for a robust and healthy growth. With GDP per capita on the rise, travel and tourism is becoming a feasible option for a larger proportion of the population. Moreover thanks to innovation, the industry can handle and accommodate the recent inflow of tourists.   

Do you believe that the Middle East travel and tourism economy is immune to ‘shocks in the world’?
Immune is too strong a word. However it is correct in saying that the relationship is weakening. Nonetheless it is still correlated to the overall performance of the world economy. Travel and tourism depends on the global economy, and when the global economy is doing well, than the ‘pie’ is bigger for everyone.    

What countries in the ME region currently need to focus on their travel and tourism plans?
Numerous countries have shown impressive travel and tourism plans. A positive example that sticks out is the United Arab Emirates. By prioritising the travel and tourism industry and investing accordingly, they have created a world class competitive name for themselves attracting travellers from all the corners of the world.

How far is sustainability going to be a watch word in the Middle East?
Sustainability is a vital ingredient for healthy long run travel and tourism growth. The Middle East is at an early stage of their development and should therefore take notes from countries that are at later stages.
It is more important how money is spent rather than how much.  Although we stress the need for government prioritisation of this industry, it is equally important that sustainability is put at the forefront of their agenda. A government spending on advertisement and raising awareness of their destination might see increased short run returns rather than long term sustainable benefits. Moreover as the Middle East possesses rich cultural heritages, it is vital that they maintain this unique selling point making them competitive on the world market.

What are the major issues that will be tackled at the 2008 summit?
Under the theme World Citizens, the Global Travel & Tourism Summit in Dubai will welcome world leaders for an open exchange on a worldwide agenda – unlocking travel and tourism’s full potential. The discussions are aimed at informing and inspiring industry and governments along a path which will guide them in acting as responsible global citizens in a rapidly evolving world. In this way, travel and tourism can continue to nurture the world’s natural and cultural environments while still driving invaluable social and economic development.
The discussions will focus on reminding people of the benefits of Travel and tourism to economies on global and local scale; address challenges that this industry must confront to meet its demands in terms of infrastructure and human resources while developing in sustainable way; embracing new technologies and learning from other industries. 

How can leaders in various sectors contribute to travel and tourism in the world around them?
Environmental issues are raising serious concerns. Leaders in other sectors should and do try to reduce the carbon emissions and use innovative methods to reduce the overall impact of travel and tourism on the economy.  

How will Dubai as a destination contribute?
As a destination, Dubai contributes in showing that travel and tourism is a strong and powerful catalyst for economic growth.