Trav­el­ing close to home: the rise of do­mes­tic tourism

Hospitality News Middle East - - IN THIS ISSUE -

The ups and downs that the Mid­dle East has ex­pe­ri­enced in re­cent years have weighed heav­ily on tourism. In­sta­bil­ity, con­flict, travel bans and eco­nomic cri­sis in some ar­eas have all taken their toll on in­flows of vis­i­tors and their abil­ity to travel around the re­gion and abroad, prompt­ing gov­ern­ments to look in­ward to com­pen­sate. Nada Alamed­dine, part­ner at Hodema, elab­o­rates Le­banon’s lo­cals tap best-kept se­crets

A case in point is Le­banon, where con­flict in neigh­bor­ing Syria, fol­lowed by the travel ban on GCC res­i­dents, dealt ma­jor blows to the in­dus­try. How­ever, more re­cently, rel­a­tive po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity has ben­e­fited lo­cal busi­nesses, with Le­banese them­selves go­ing back on the road to tour their coun­try. Do­mes­tic tourism has al­ways been the first sec­tor to bounce back when things calm down, for the ob­vi­ous rea­son that lo­cals have first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence of the chang­ing sit­u­a­tion on the ground. An­other rea­son in Le­banon’s case is that given the small size of the coun­try, day or overnight trips are easy to or­ga­nize, and in only a cou­ple of hours you can get out of town, en­joy a change of scenery and take a breath of gen­uinely fresh air. Fig­ures are there to sup­port the trend; ac­cord­ing to a Blom­in­vest Bank re­port, the do­mes­tic tourism in­dus­try has grown from USD 1.17 bil­lion in 2016 to USD 1.19 bil­lion in 2017. The World Travel and Tourism Coun­cil (WTTC) con­firms cur­rent mo­men­tum, while also fore­cast­ing a 4.3 per­cent yearly rise un­til 2027, at which point it ex­pects do­mes­tic tourism ex­pen­di­ture to reach USD 2.35 bil­lion.

Be­ing an ‘in­ner tourist’ also im­plies that you know the ins and outs of your coun­try and won’t nec­es­sar­ily only head for the ob­vi­ous at­trac­tions, such as Jbeil, Baal­back or Beited­dine, that for­eign vis­i­tors fa­vor when they ar­rive on a short trip, but rather ex­plore much wider op­tions. Some will opt for re­li­gious or his­tor­i­cal sites, or go for a stroll in ur­ban ar­eas, where walk­ing tours are now of­fered, while oth­ers will choose out­door sports, such as hik­ing, ski­ing and trekking or sim­ply in­dulging their love for lo­cal del­i­ca­cies by vis­it­ing eater­ies and winer­ies from north to south of the coun­try. How­ever, the new kid on the block is def­i­nitely ru­ral tourism, in­cor­po­rat­ing a broad range of seg­ments that range from na­ture and com­mu­nity to eco and agrobased tourism, all of­fer­ing a fresh take on the coun­try and its un­spoiled land­scapes.

This suc­cess, sup­ported by tra­di­tional ru­ral friend­li­ness, re­lies on the set­ting up of guest­houses and Bed and Break­fast (B&B) fa­cil­i­ties, many of which are en­rolled in the Diyafa as­so­ci­a­tion, a net­work in the ru­ral tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try pro­mot­ing guest­houses across Le­banon. It gath­ers to­gether 30 es­tab­lish­ments un­der one um­brella, of­fer­ing 181 rooms across the coun­try, from the snowy moun­tains of the Qadisha Val­ley to the coast­line of Ba­troun down to Mount Le­banon, the Bekaa Val­ley and Tyre. Their stan­dards and prices vary, but all pride them­selves on of­fer­ing a unique take on tra­di­tion. The cam­paign ‘Live Love Le­banon’, launched in part­ner­ship with the Min­istry of Tourism in 2014, has also been ac­tively pro­mot­ing lo­cal at­trac­tions, as well as the project Le­banon In­dus­try Value Chain, sup­ported by USAID.

The drought in Gulf tourists, as well as the rise of mid­dle class West­ern trav­el­ers, has shifted the hos­pi­tal­ity of­fer from 5-star ur­ban ho­tels to lower-cost and al­ter­na­tive es­tab­lish­ments, both in and out of town. Le­banese vis­i­tors, who are seek­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent from the usual touris­tic of­fer, have proved to be in­stru­men­tal in mak­ing th­ese projects suc­cess­ful. Since they’re closer to home, lo­cal tourists are of­ten look­ing for a dif­fer­ent type of ex­pe­ri­ence, in a price range that en­ables them to make more fre­quent trips. The fact that do­mes­tic tourists are not sub­ject to costly flights and visa pa­per­work broad­ens the so­cial spec­trum, with lo­cal trav­el­ers vary­ing in lev­els of dis­pos­able in­come. The hos­pi­tal­ity and food and bev­er­age of­fer thus needs to ad­just to meet the re­quire­ments of this var­ied mar­ket.

Sup­port­ing the com­mon cause in Egypt

In Egypt, do­mes­tic trav­el­ing now makes up 75 per­cent of the sec­tor’s GDP, while for­eign spend­ing, which had been fill­ing the cof­fers of the coun­try for decades un­til the Arab Spring, is strug­gling to pick up, plagued by po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity which has also had a neg­a­tive im­pact on the

The main eco­nomic hub of Cairo is home to a grow­ing mid­dle class with ris­ing pur­chas­ing power that tend to go to nearby ar­eas for short stays on a reg­u­lar ba­sis

Egyp­tian pass­port and left many lo­cals strug­gling to get a visa to travel abroad. The main eco­nomic hub of Cairo is home to a grow­ing mid­dle class with ris­ing pur­chas­ing power that tend to go to nearby ar­eas for short stays on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Many of them own an apart­ment, villa, or prop­erty within a mixed-use de­vel­op­ment com­pound, ei­ther out­side Cairo or in a sea­side re­sort, such as Marsa Alam on the Red Sea, or Porto Ma­rina next to Alexan­dria. Flag­ship ho­tels that tra­di­tion­ally de­pend heav­ily on for­eign vis­i­tors are also per­form­ing bet­ter, thanks to a change in strat­egy that has seen them shift their of­fer to lo­cal busi­nesses host­ing events for Egyp­tians, due to in­ter­na­tional traf­fic slow­ing down. The ‘My coun­try is beau­ti­ful’ ini­tia­tive launched in 2013 has also given a boost to the in­dus­try, with dis­counts of­fered to do­mes­tic trav­el­ers. In the af­ter­math of the Metro­jet plane crash, the gov­ern­ment also pledged USD 5 mil­lion to as­sist the ini­tia­tive and Pres­i­dent Sissi him­self asked Egyp­tians to sup­port lo­cal tourism.

Cash­ing the bill in Jor­dan

Jor­dan has been less suc­cess­ful in its ef­forts to boost ho­tel oc­cu­pancy rates by en­tic­ing lo­cal trav­el­ers. While it con­tin­ues to en­joy its sta­tus as a hotspot for for­eign­ers, the coun­try, renowned glob­ally as a his­tor­i­cal and beach des­ti­na­tion, is seem­ingly be­ing given the cold shoul­der by its own res­i­dents. Al­most 92 per­cent of travel spend­ing comes from abroad, ac­cord­ing to data from the WTTC. High fares and an ex­pen­sive trans­porta­tion sys­tem are cited as rea­sons for a poorly per­form­ing do­mes­tic travel mar­ket, with ho­tel own­ers point­ing their fin­gers at hefty taxes and elec­tric­ity fees that make it im­pos­si­ble for most Jor­da­ni­ans to af­ford overnight stays.

Saudi Ara­bia’s charm

If there is one ex­am­ple of a re­gional suc­cess story when it comes to lo­cal tourism, it has to be Saudi Ara­bia, with the King­dom rep­re­sent­ing the only coun­try in which do­mes­tic traf­fic out­paces for­eign vis­i­tor num­bers. The au­thor­i­ties are bet­ting big on the tourism sec­tor in its en­tirety, by in­tro­duc­ing a wide range of in­cen­tives and mea­sures through the long-term strat­egy for the coun­try - Vi­sion 2030. By 2027, the in­dus­try is ex­pected to con­trib­ute more than 11.1 per­cent of to­tal GDP, ac­cord­ing to the WTTC, in a boom that will also ben­e­fit lo­cal vis­i­tors. Ac­cord­ing to re­search by Euromon­i­tor In­ter­na­tional, the coun­try will see a 40 per­cent rise in the num­ber of in­ter­nal trips made be­tween 2015 and 2020 in growth that will most likely out­strip the in­crease in for­eign ar­rivals. Vi­sion 2030 has out­lined an am­bi­tious plan to in­crease house­hold spend­ing on cul­tural and en­ter­tain­ment ac­tiv­i­ties in­side the coun­try from 2.9 per­cent to six per­cent. Ini­tia­tives such as ‘Live Saudi Ara­bia’ and ‘Leave No Trace’ are en­cour­ag­ing lo­cals to visit his­tor­i­cal sites and pre­serve the en­vi­ron­ment. ‘The Colours of Saudi Ara­bia’ fo­rum or­ga­nizes pho­tog­ra­phy events and thou­sands of vis­its each year to the pop­u­lar Janadriyaha and Jed­dah Ghair fes­ti­vals. Nu­mer­ous hos­pi­tal­ity projects are also un­der­way in the cities of Riyadh, Jed­dah and Al Kho­bar. More than 60,000 new rooms are cur­rently in the pipe­line in the cap­i­tal city alone, while a record 68 new ho­tels opened across the coun­try in 2017. Sev­eral in­ter­na­tional brands, in­clud­ing Nobu Hos­pi­tal­ity and Rocco Forte Ho­tels, have re­cently made their de­but in the lo­cal mar­ket.

Spoiled for choice in the UAE

The UAE re­mains eclipsed by neigh­bor­ing Saudi Ara­bia when it comes to lo­cal tourism, with do­mes­tic spend­ing reach­ing just 26 per­cent of the di­rect Travel & Tourism GDP in 2016, com­pared with 73.9 per­cent for for­eign vis­i­tors. Th­ese fig­ures can be at­trib­uted pri­mar­ily to the dif­fi­cul­ties in­volved in ob­tain­ing a visa to en­ter Saudi Ara­bia, while en­ter­ing the UAE is a much eas­ier process for for­eign­ers, ir­re­spec­tive of whether their visit is for leisure or work. New at­trac­tions form part of broader ef­forts to en­cour­age Emi­ratis to re­main closer to home. In Dubai, di­verse projects, rang­ing from a new ex­ten­sion to the Dubai Mall and the Dubai De­sign Dis­trict (D3) to an opera house, the Eti­had Mu­seum and even a vir­tual re­al­ity park are spring­ing up. Food-savvy res­i­dents will also find ad­di­tional places of in­ter­est to tempt them, such as La Mer - a de­vel­op­ment by Mer­aas - and Marsa Al Seef. Abu Dhabi is also keep­ing pace with its peers, with new leisure hotspots, such as Saadiyat Is­land, which has made a name for it­self with the open­ing of the Lou­vre Mu­seum, Al Reem Is­land and Yas Is­land, at­tract­ing vis­i­tors in their droves.

The north­ern emi­rates also have a lot to of­fer, in­clud­ing sandy beaches a stone’s throw from home and large ho­tels at­tract­ing more and more vis­i­tors. Ras al Khaimah has un­veiled new at­trac­tions, such as an ob­ser­va­tory and the world’s long­est zi­pline in Jebel Jais, a whole range of food fes­ti­vals and the largest aerial fire­work shell on Al Mar­jan Is­land. More­over, the ‘no al­co­hol’ pol­icy in some ho­tels, which can be a dis­in­cen­tive for for­eign­ers, won’t de­ter res­i­dents who make up most of the clien­tele.

Ho­tel own­ers point­ing their fin­gers at hefty taxes and elec­tric­ity fees that make it im­pos­si­ble for most Jor­da­ni­ans to af­ford overnight stays

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