UNWTO 50th Regional Commission: Mideast Tourism Leaders Prioritize Innovation, Investments

The UN Tourism brought together its Middle East member states for the 50th Regional Commission for the Middle East, in Muscat, Oman.

The forum, held from May 22-24, 2024, focused on shoring up tourism sector through boosting investments and developing new products to build resilience and expand inclusively.

Celebrating Achievements

The UN Tourism Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili, welcomed delegations from 13 member states, including 8 tourism ministers. After that, he invited them to join a celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the Commission. He pointed out that the Commission has worked, over 50 meetings, to achieve growth in tourism across the region, in size and impact.

During the ceremony, Pololikashvili presented an update on the Organization’s work since the Commission’s last meeting in Jordan, in June 2023. As key priorities, he gave a special focus to tourism education, jobs and investments.

In his opening remarks, he said: “Now, we can confidently say that the Middle East is a true global tourism leader. Not just in terms of arrivals, but the region is influencing our sector’s development everywhere in the world.”

“It is a hub of tourism innovation and education. And it is a leading investor, backing big ideas and ambitious projects with the power to transform tourism at every level,” Pololikashvili added.

In conclusion of the first day, the members agreed that the 51st Regional Commission for the Middle East will be held in Doha, Qatar, in 2025.

Resilience and Innovation

The Regional Commission’s agenda focused on building more diverse, resilient and innovative tourism sector. The UN Tourism asserted its commitment to build resilience and create opportunities through diversification. It also highlighted the significant potential of wellness tourism for the region.

Moreover, the UN Tourism underlined the growing importance of gastronomy tourism as a pillar of rural development and cultural heritage. It is a type of tourism activity which is characterized by the visitor’s experience linked with food and related products and activities while travelling.

Education and Investments

On the top of the agenda came education and investments. The Middle East has emerged as a leading hub in both pillars. In cooperation with UN Tourism, Saudi Arabia is leading in tourism education. The Kingdom is providing professional education and training to tens of thousands of tourism workers, including at the new Riyadh School of Hospitality.

In regards to investments, the region has evolved into an investment hub. Between 2018 and 2023, 254 greenfield projects have been announced in the Middle East, representing a total capital investment of $15.5bn.

Special Conference

Given the region’s status as a global investment hub, UN Tourism Regional Commission gathered key figures for a special conference. It was themed “Investing in Tourism: Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Financing.” The conference acted as a platform to discuss the opportunities and challenges related to sustainable financing of the tourism sector. It focused on innovation, technology and education.

The conference harnessed the great momentum building around tourism in the Middle East, including in the area of investments. According to the UN Tourism data, 254 greenfield projects announced in the region were expected to create more than 33,600 jobs from 2018 to 2023.

In addition, 13 of these greenfield projects were announced in Oman, with a capital investment of $1.83bn. Middle East countries have announced 109 greenfield FDI projects abroad in the cluster of tourism, with a total investment of $6.8bn.

Growing Importance

At the beginning of the conference, the Omani Minister of Heritage and Tourism, Salim Mohammed Al Mahruqi, underscored the importance of investments for enhancing tourism in Oman and across the Middle East and for building a more resilient and sustainable sector at all levels.

UNWTO 50th Regional Commission: Mideast Tourism Leaders Prioritize Innovation, Investments
UN Tourism 50th Regional Commission for the Middle East

In a keynote speech on investment trends and opportunities in the region, UN Tourism Executive Director Natalia Bayona, said: “The Middle East now stands as a beacon of tourism innovation and investments.”

She explained: “The region invested almost $14bn in the sector over the past 5 years, with $341mn of this invested in tourism tech, demonstrating the region’s commitment to building a more digital and impactful sector.”

Furthermore, the conference’s panel discussions explored challenges and key priorities for promoting and targeting tourism investments in the region. These included effective partnerships, enhancing financial confidence, and offering guarantees, in addition to introducing greater innovation into financing mechanisms.

Saudi Arabia’s Pivotal Role

In a panel discussion themed “Effective Partnerships in Financing the Tourism Sector,” the Saudi Tourism Minister, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, highlighted Saudi Arabia’s efforts in enhancing the tourism sector across the region, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

Al-Khateeb stressed the Kingdom is working in collaboration with UN Tourism Middle Eastern member states to develop the region’s tourism sector, owing to the region’s global significance. He pointed out that the Middle East has the necessary resources to make successful investments in tourism sector. Furthermore, the region possesses a great potential to become one of the world’s leading tourist destinations.

UNWTO 50th Regional Commission: Mideast Tourism Leaders Prioritize Innovation, Investments
Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb

The Saudi Minister said: “The Kingdom will revolutionize the global tourism map, and the opportunities and support we offer to investors will make the tourism sector more appealing.” He added: “We are taking distinctive steps to build the sector.”

According to Al-Khateeb, Saudi Arabia has begun developing the tourism sector as part of its ambitious Vision 2030. Owing to the development efforts, the sector’s contribution to the Kingdom’s economy increased from 3% to 4.5% by the end of 2023.

Saudi Arabia’s goal is to raise the tourism sector’s contribution to 10% by 2030. In a remarkable milestone, the Kingdom met its target of attracting 100 million visitors by 2030 seven years ahead of schedule. As a result, it has updated its target to attract 150 million visitors.

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