A delegation from Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) led by Mr. Ahmed Al Nuaimi, Chairman, represented Qatar at the 34th meeting of the World Tourism Organization's Committee for the Middle East (UNWTO) in Sana'a, Yemen held on the 22 and 23 June. The meeting brought together 65 delegates from 12 Arab and international organizations.
Deputy Prime Minister for Security Affairs, Defense and Minister of Local Administration of Yemen, Mr. Rashad Mohammed al-Alimi, addressed the opening session. Mr. al-Alimi re-affirmed the growing importance of the tourism industry to the economies in the Middle East and North Africa region, and its role in nourishing development through achieving sustainability and reducing poverty and unemployment.
Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, Dr. Taleb Rifai, delivered a report on the current situation of world tourism. He reviewed the general work of the organization and the process of the restructuring of the secretariat of the organization since he took over as Secretary-General in September 2009 in Astana, Kazakhstan.
In discussing the two day congress, Mr. Al Nuaimi stressed that the importance of the gathering lies in Dr. Rafai's report on the status of world tourism, where the countries involved will need to review their strategies and adopt action plans that work within the changing environment.
"The report submitted by the Secretary-General shows that significant challenges still exist in the global tourism industry," said Mr. Al Nuaimi. "The year 2009 was one of the most difficult years for tourism around the world due to the effects of the global economic crisis, and the restrictions faced by the industry due to H1N1 and other natural calamities. Tourism rates declined 4% globally – the worst in 60 The number of international travelers decreased from 950 million to 880 million. Tourism revenues dropped worldwide by 6%, which is relatively low considering the drop in the trade sector (12%)."
As for the impact of the economic crisis on the tourism industry in the Arab region, Al Nuaimi said that there was a decrease in tourism to the Arab region, though the decrease in revenues was lower than the worldwide decrease. He attributed this to the decrease in foreign tourists being replaced by an increase in local tourists, highlighting the important role in filling the gap of foreign tourists.
Discussing the outlook for 2010, Mr. Al Nuaimi commented on the projections by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which indicates that international economic growth could exceed 4%. "The recovery from the economic crisis of 2009 for the tourism industry is still a slow and cautious recovery, and is not commensurate with the global economic recovery," said Mr. Al Nuaimi. "Though there was a rebound in the first quarter of 2010, the industry faced another crisis and was challenged by natural disasters such as the Icelandic volcano eruption that went beyond Europe and affected flights on all continents – Asia, Africa North America and South America."
This was followed by the increase in debt of certain European countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and now Italy. In order for many governments to stimulate their economies, they have had to impose a package of fiscal policies including policies on travel and tourism. Such policies include levying a departure tax on visitors who travel abroad which may in turn affect inbound tourism to those countries.
"The future challenges that stand in front of the tourism industry are not confined to economic or political crises or challenges of natural disasters," said Mr. Al Nuaimi. "The tourism industry faces many challenges to be considered just like any other industry: not providing enough job opportunities to reduce unemployment and closing the poverty gap. In addition there is the environmental challenge which his now threatening all economic sectors, as all industries must address the international calls to reduce the consumption of natural resources and to protect the environment, including air flights and the air pollution resulting from them."
As for the status of Arab tourism, Mr. Al Nuami has said that according to the World Tourism Organization, the region still accounts for more than 5% of global tourism. And when comparing this figure to what it was ten years ago, it has doubled. This is due to the efforts of developing tourism in the region, and increasing the awareness of its importance. "The tourism sector is an ever-growing business and yields increasing revenue every time attention is allocated to developing and enhancing it," said Mr. Al Nuaimi. "Tourism is the most successful tool in sustainable development, reducing poverty and unemployment and the most successful in sustaining the environment, heritage and society. This is a call to all of us to raise more awareness about tourism. Tourism authorities cannot work alone - tourism is a broad sector that must be taken care of by all government segments."
As for QTA's benefit from the report of the World Tourism Organization, Mr. Al Nuaimi said that QTA has now identified the type of tourists it will target in the future, not just by number, but also by the duration of stay and the amount they are willing to spend. "Identifying and targeting the markets that have the highest number of outbound travelers is central to the promotion strategy for tourism marketing," remarked Mr. Al Nuaimi. It is worth mentioning that the World Tourism Organization has changed their forecast on outbound travelers from Europe given the current economic conditions and that Asian outbound tourism is expected to increase. "We also find it important that the G20 created a sub-committee, the T20, whose goal it is to follow up with the finance ministers to make them aware of the importance of the tourism sector and its role in steering the economic wheel."
In the second meeting session, QTA presented its report for 2009-2010. The report discussed the Qatari tourism market and touristic venues in terms of business tourism, exhibition centers and conventions, and listed previous hosted events (32 exhibitions). In promoting Qatar as a cultural center, Mr. Al Nuaimi discussed current attractions including the Museum of Islamic Art and pointed out the future plans for opening museums and cultural exhibitions hosted by the State of Qatar. As for sports tourism, Mr. Al Nuaimi spoke of the diverse sports events hosted here such as world tennis tourism, golf, hosting the Asian Games for 2011 and Qatar's bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Mr. Al Nuaimi discussed the progress in the hotel industry, and investment boom in tourism as the result of investment law changes by the government earlier in the year.
Mr. Al Nuaimi's report also discussed the efforts in promoting internal tourism, especially that the latter plays a role in attracting the residents and making them spend less time abroad, leading them to spend more of their vacation in Qatar, leading in turn to the prosperity of the internal tourism sector.
During the third session, Mr. Rifai presented the prospects of tourism in the Middle East and North Africa region, discussing characteristics, trends and prospects.
The fourth session, Mr. Al Nuaimi discussed, along with a number of Arab tourism ministers, the scope of work of the committee in the Middle East and recommended plans and goals to be adopted by the committee in the future related to the Middle East and North Africa region..
The fifth session mentioned Qatar hosting two tourism workshops in collaboration with World Tourism Organization for 2010-2011 including tourism security and tourism marketing and promotion.
And in the last session, an initiative was presented for technical assistance in tourism statistics and the preparation of a tourism satellite account. An initiative, the Amadeus-UNWTO partnership, was also presented which aims to enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of the tourism destinations in the MENA region. The theme for World Tourism Day was decided as "Tourism and Biodiversity", to focus on achieving common goals for sustainable development. The UNWTO will also undertake a mission (ST-EP) in Yemen to identify ways to develop sustainable tourism and eradicate poverty.
In the closing of the meeting, the conclusions of all meetings were reviewed Lebanon was requested to host the 35th meeting of the UNWTO.