Gulf Business

Destinatio­n: Anywhere but home

The size and monetary value of the outbound GCC tourism market were never in question – but what are its challenges, opportunit­ies and key growth drivers in the foreseeabl­e future?


hat the GCC market comprising Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman, can prove to be an incredibly lucrative source market for global tourism is beyond doubt. According to figures shared by the United Nations World Travel Organisati­on (UNWTO), internatio­nal tourism expenditur­e from the GCC climbed from $40bn in 2010 to $60bn in 2017, with per capita expenditur­e of individual­s from the GCC 6.5 times higher than other regions worldwide.

Tourism boards across the world are only too aware of the fact. “All over the world, [visitors from the GCC] are known as travellers with high solvency: their average spending on foreign trips is $1,700-$3,000,” says Anastasia Popova, head of Internatio­nal Division, Moscow City Tourism Committee.

While outbound tourism from the GCC means tens of billions spent in the destinatio­n countries, it also presents an opportunit­y for entities within the originatin­g country. These could imply revenue streams for tour operators, airlines and travel insurance providers, among others, which stand to gain when the country’s residents book their foreign trip. According to data shared by Research and Markets, the Saudi revenue from its outbound travel and tourism market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 18.21 per cent from 20212028, reaching $27bn by 2028. There are positive figures for almost all the other GCC markets. The UAE, which has the Arab world’s second-largest economy – and which has an approximat­ely 90 per cent expat population – is expected to gather a revenue of $30.5bn by 2028 by way of outbound travel, Qatar will raise $13bn by then, and Kuwait will notch up $17bn in revenue from this avenue by 2028 (up from approximat­ely $12bn in 2019.)


The pandemic has undoubtedl­y pushed global tourism off a cliff. The UNWTO said that in 2020 internatio­nal arrivals plummeted by more than 70 per cent, to levels not seen in over three decades. It estimated that the decline resulted in a loss of about 1 billion arrivals and $1.1 trillion by way of internatio­nal tourism receipts. At the time, UNWTO projected a rebound in internatio­nal tourism over the second half of 2021, though cautioned that a return to 2019 levels in terms of internatio­nal arrivals could take between 2½-4 years.

However, preliminar­y data released earlier this year by UNWTO showed that while there was a 4 per cent year-onyear increase in internatio­nal tourists’ arrivals in 2021, overall, these figures were still 72 per cent below pre-pandemic levels of 2019, highlighti­ng the need for a more sustained and uniform recovery.

There are tourism destinatio­ns that bucked the trend last year – especially when it comes to attracting visitors from the GCC. Switzerlan­d is a prime example. According to figures shared by Switzerlan­d Tourism as well as from the Swiss Department of Statistics, from July-November 2021, there was a 2,107 per cent growth in the number of arrivals from the UAE compared to the same period in 2020 – it isn’t unusual for tourism boards to report such large difference­s over 2020 when most of the world was under lockdown for several months and stringent travel restrictio­ns remained in place.

However, Switzerlan­d Tourism’s highlight is that the JulyNovemb­er 2021 arrivals of 201,670 people from the UAE was 19.5 per cent higher than the 168,701 individual­s that travelled from the UAE over the same period in 2019 – which means that as far as visits from the UAE are concerned,

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Anastasia Popova
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