International tourist arrivals were down 83% in the first quarter of 2021 as widespread travel restrictions remained in place. However, the UNWTO Confidence Index shows signs of a slow uptick in confidence.
Between January and March 2021 destinations around the world welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals compared to the first quarter of last year. Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a 94% drop in international arrivals over the three-month period. Europe recorded the second largest decline with -83%, followed by Africa (-81%), the Middle East (-78%) and the Americas (-71%). This all follows on from the 73% fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year on record for the sector.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili comments: “There is significant pent-up demand and we see confidence slowly returning. Vaccinations will be key for recovery, but we must improve coordination and communication while making testing easier and more affordable if we want to see a rebound for the summer season in the northern hemisphere.”
The latest survey of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts shows prospects for the May-August period improving slightly. Alongside this, the pace of the vaccination rollout in some key source markets as well as policies to restart tourism safely, most notably the EU Digital Green Certificate, have boosted hopes for a rebound in some of these markets.
Overall, 60% expect a rebound in international tourism only in 2022, up from 50% in the January 2021 survey. The remaining 40% see a potential rebound in 2021, though this is down slightly from the percentage in January. Nearly half of the experts do not see a return to 2019 international tourism levels before 2024 or later, while the percentage of respondents indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 has somewhat decreased (37%), when compared to the January survey.
https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/4223532/embed?auto=1 Tourism experts point to the continued imposition of travel restrictions and the lack of coordination in travel and health protocols as the main obstacle to the sector’s rebound.
The Impact of COVID on Tourism cuts global exports by 4%
The UNWTO World Tourism Barometer also shows the economic toll of the pandemic. International tourism receipts in 2020 declined by 64% in real terms (local currencies, constant prices), equivalent to a drop of over US$ 900 billion, cutting the overall worldwide exports value by over 4% in 2020. The total loss in export revenues from international tourism (including passenger transport) amounts to nearly US$ 1.1 trillion. Asia and the Pacific (-70% in real terms) and the Middle East (-69%) saw the largest drops in receipts.
UNWTO and Greece to Collaborate on Maritime Tourism Research Centre
UNWTO is to collaborate with the Greek Ministry of Tourism in establishing a first research station dedicated to measuring the sustainable development of coastal and maritime tourism across the Mediterranean.
The new monitoring centre will be based at the University of the Aegean in Greece. From here, experts will capture and collate measurement data and analysis relating to the environmental, economic, and social impact of tourism.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Coastal and Maritime tourism is one of the most important economic drivers within the Mediterranean basin. This new research centre can provide key data to guide the restart and future development of the sector, ensuring it fulfils its potential to provide opportunity for coastal communities and to protect and celebrate natural and cultural heritage.”
The United Nations specialized agency and the Ministry of Tourism confirmed their collaboration on the initiative during the UNWTO High-Level Conference on Coastal and Maritime Tourism, held in Athens and co-hosted by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and Celebrity Cruises.
The Tourism Minister of Greece Harry Theoharis said: “I express my immense gratitude for UNWTO’s support in this endeavour. The Research Center will soon become a reference point for the study and protection of our coasts and seas.”
Pierfrancesco Vago, Global Chairman of CLIA and Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises added: “CLIA is pleased to support the UNWTO research and monitoring centre on sustainability and coastal maritime tourism in the Mediterranean. As part of the cruise industry’s commitment to responsible travel, we are pursuing carbon neutral cruising in Europe by 2050, and we work closely with cruise destinations and coastal communities to support economic growth in a sustainable manner.
Empowering Indigenous Communities to Drive Tourism’s Recovery
The cultural diversity and knowledge of indigenous peoples can bring innovative experiences and new business opportunities for tourism destinations and local communities, and help them recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on this, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has partnered with the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) on a set of guidelines, designed to ensure this type of experiences are respectful and led by the indigenous communities themselves.
The new UNWTO Inclusive Recovery Guide, Issue 4: Indigenous Communities, is the fourth set of guidelines addressing the socio-cultural impacts of COVID-19 issued by UNWTO. The partners call for placing Indigenous communities at the centre of recovery plans and for partnerships geared towards gathering accurate data on Indigenous tourism, and how it has been affected by the pandemic.
These recommendations draw on the partners’ expertise and set out solutions for the socio-economic empowerment of Indigenous Peoples through tourism. These include transitioning from “assisting” to “enabling” indigenous entrepreneurship, strengthening skills and building capacities, fostering digital literacy for running tourism businesses, and acknowledging the relevance of indigenous peoples by destination authorities and the tourism sector overall.
The Guide, launched on the occasion of the International Day of Cultural Diversity, builds on the decade-long partnership between UNWTO and WINTA. The two organizations work together to enable indigenous communities untap their tourism potential and promote their success stories. The most recent collaboration, the Weaving the Recovery Project, focuses on empowering Indigenous women through responsible tourism experiences and indigenous artisanship in Latin America.
The recommendations also benefitted from inputs provided by the Organization for the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In recent years, the OECD has also significantly advanced its policy research and promotion of good practices and networks championing indigenous tourism within its Member countries.
UNWTO stands ready to support platforms which reinforce indigenous peoples’ networks, making them the ultimate decision makers of tourism operations affecting their livelihoods.
Can alternative segments reboot Gulf tourism’s Covid-19 recovery?
With Saudi Arabia’s flagship Red Sea tourism project securing $3.8bn in green financing, various governments in the Gulf region are looking to new, alternative tourism models to drive the coronavirus recoveries in this important sector, with an emphasis on ecological options and staycations.
Both in order to reboot its tourism industry and as part of its drive to diversify the economy away from hydrocarbons, Saudi Arabia is developing several major ecological tourism projects.
In April the Red Sea Development Company – which is owned by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund – announced that it had raised $3.8bn for the Red Sea Project through the first ever riyal-denominated green finance credit facility.
The project is being built on a 28,000-sq-km site that contains 90 islands. It is set to welcome its first visitors in 2022, and when it is fully operational in 2030 it will feature 50 hotels, a luxury marina and a range of entertainment and leisure facilities.
The site’s entire transport network, including a new airport, will be powered by renewable energy.
Four banks in Saudi Arabia – Banque Saudi Fransi, Riyad Bank, Saudi British Bank and Saudi National Bank – contributed to funding the construction of the project, while HSBC acted as green loan coordinator.
Alternative tourism on the rise
The Gulf region as a whole is increasingly embracing innovative, sustainable approaches to tourism.
“The demand for local, greener and eco-friendly tourism has grown exponentially, in both Europe and the GCC,” Chirag Kanabar, managing director of Pine Wood Building Materials Trading, a company focussed on eco-friendly and sustainable modular construction, told OBG. “This is in line with pandemic-related preferences for increased social distance and privacy.”
The UAE, for example, has seen a significant uptick in “glamping”, a phenomenon whereby tourists can enjoy the experience of camping while having access to facilities that are more luxurious than those available on traditional campsites.
Glamping is part of a broader shift towards the so-called staycation model. With flights grounded and borders closed as a result of Covid-19, last year many people around the world took their holidays within their home country. This year, even though vaccine programmes are being rolled out and borders gradually reopened worldwide, international tourism is expected to recover slowly, and “staycationing” is leading the way.
Back in 2018 market research company Aritzon predicted that the global glamping industry would reach revenues of approximately $1bn by 2023, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6% throughout the period.
However, it would seem that the coronavirus pandemic has served to accelerate the sector’s growth. According to a report published in March this year by Grand View Research, global glamping will be worth $5.4bn by 2028, thanks to a CAGR of 14.1% between 2021 and 2028.
The UAE is particularly well placed to leverage this trend, with its range of naural landscapes close to urban centres offering varied cultural attractions.
One flagship project is Sharjah’s Kingfisher Retreat, a tented hotel in the Middle East, which won the 2020 Luxury Beach Retreat in the Middle East prize at the World Luxury Hotel Awards.
“This is tangible proof that the emirate’s ecotourism model, based on environmentally friendly structures, is working, so the government is seeking to expand it to other locations within its territory,” David Patrick Court, a consultant at Bushtec Creations, a luxury tent manufacturer for resorts and glamping providers, told OBG.
Meanwhile, the recently announced Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan puts a strong emphasis on sustainability.
In a significant move, Glampitect – a leading British eco-resort design consultancy – in March announced it was opening a site in Dubai.
Elsewhere, at the Arabian Travel Market 2021 – held at the Dubai World Trade Centre from 16-19 May – the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) announced over 20 sustainable tourism development initiatives across the emirate.
As well as glamping sites, these will include eco-hotels and experiential offerings.
“The GCC region excels at providing opportunities for experiential travel, given its rich history and culture. A possible way forward for the region to fully capitalise on this might be for individual countries and emirates to coordinate among themselves in an approach similar to that taken by South-east Asian nations, whereby each one can specialise in their distinctive value proposition,” Tommy Lai, CEO of the Gulf-based GHM Hotels, told OBG.
“For the region, it is important to promote the idea that ecotourism is multifaceted, and not only associated with rainforests and tropical settings. The multifaceted potential of ecotourism can be developed on the basis of the unique habitats in the GCC, including its deserts,” Lai added.
Echoing these sentiments, Sanjiv Malhotra, executive vice-president of Shaza Hotels, told OBG that, “in the UAE, every emirate offers a distinct experience. Sharjah has decisively focused on positioning itself as a capital of heritage and culture, building on an identity tied to education. It also bets on its natural assets, from its Gulf coast to Khorfakkan.”
New trends in the industry
RAKTDA said that its plan reflects Ras Al Khaimah’s new destination strategy, which is focused on nature, leisure, adventure, accessibility and authenticity.
These focuses broadly correspond to six key trends identified by Euronews Travel in a recent report on the post-2020 future of tourism, namely: wilderness tourism, ecotourism, nomadic tourism, wellness tourism, authentic tourism and mindful tourism.
Nomadic tourism, or “long stay travel”, corresponds to the significant growth in digital nomads. Such travellers relocate for longer periods and, while they spend less on a daily basis, it is possible to capture substantial value from their presence.
While many emerging economies are scrambling to position themselves as digital nomad hubs, Dubai is already an established leader in the field.
Given its strong ICT infrastructure and healthy start-up scene, Dubai is an attractive option for digital nomads, with officials marketing the emirate as a place where people can live and work by the beach.
In short, from ecotourism and glamping, to staycations and digital nomads, the Gulf region is at the cutting edge of the latest developments in tourism, providing a recovery model which other regions should be able to build on going forwards.
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