x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

UAE bucks global fall in tourism

As Middle East sees largest fall of any region during the first four months of this year, Emirates grows by 3 per cent.

Tourist enjoys watching the Whale shark at the Aquarium in Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.
Tourist enjoys watching the Whale shark at the Aquarium in Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.

Tourist numbers in the Middle East saw the largest fall of any region in the world during the first four months of this year, but the UAE bucked the trend with growth of 3 per cent, the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said yesterday. Since the downturn began to bite in earnest late last year, Dubai has launched promotions to lure tourists, including hefty hotel discounts, cheap airfares, retail sales and a special "kids go free" summer offer. The region saw tourism decline by 18 per cent between January and April compared with the same period last year, according to preliminary figures from the UN organisation's World Tourism Barometer. Globally, international tourism declined by 8 per cent. "The Middle East is cooling down from a number of years of very fast growth," said John Kester, the chief of market trends, competitiveness and trade in tourism services at the UNWTO. Last year, tourist arrivals in the Middle East rose faster than anywhere else, at 18.2 per cent up on the previous year. Saudi Arabia was a big factor in the decline this year, the UNWTO said, with arrivals down 60 per cent in the first quarter of the year. Rob O'Hanlon, a partner at Deloitte Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure, said: "The extent to which the global slowdown has taken place has impacted leisure tourism and business tourism, particularly out of Europe, which is affecting the Middle East. That, combined with last year being such a bumper year, means you have a double impact." Mr O'Hanlon said a recovery in the region depended on a recovery in source markets, particularly Europe. "With the significant investment that has gone into hotel infrastructure and conference facilities, I think as and when global markets start to become more active and we start seeing travel taking place, the Middle East is particularly well placed with the reduction in the rates that have come through, and its location relative to the rest of the world," he said. Destinations worldwide recorded a total of 247 million international tourist arrivals in the first four months of this year, down from 269 million last year, the report said. "Tourism is seriously impacted, given the sharp reduction in business activity, decreasing disposable income and associated increased unemployment, particularly in key tourism source markets," it said. The report also said swine flu, which severely affected the tourism market worldwide in the spring, might still hurt global travel. The UNWTO said it had revised its forecast for the full year, "taking account of the results for the first four months of the year and the current market conditions". It forecast that international tourism would fall by between 4 per cent and 6 per cent this year, as the pace of decline was expected to ease during the remainder of the year. Tourist arrivals to Europe were down 10 per cent in the first four months of the year, the Americas were down 5 per cent, and the Asia/Pacific region was down 6 per cent. Africa, meanwhile, saw tourism increase by 3 per cent. rbundhun@thenational.ae