The WTM Global Travel Report, in association with Tourism Economics published the number of leisure visitors to the region in 2023 is expected to reach 33 million, compared with 29 million in 2019. This 13% increase means that the Middle East is the only region fully recovered from the pandemic in volume. When measured in dollar terms, the Middle East leads the way, in growth terms, with a 46% increase in inbound spend compared with 2019. The Middle East is also outperforming all other regions for domestic travel, which has grown by 176% since 2019, albeit from a low base.
The success of the region’s recovery from the pandemic is driven by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with their commitment to tourism showing signs of success. The report notes that “both countries are investing heavily in tourism infrastructure, viewing tourism development as a key strategy to diversify away from hydrocarbons reliance.”
Inbound and domestic in both markets is fully recovered from the pandemic. For Saudi, inbound is outperforming 2019 by 66% in dollar terms, with the UAE registering a 21% increase. For domestic visits, the countries are ahead by 37% and 66% respectively.
The next year is also looking good for the region’s overall inbound and domestic market as well as its two major markets. “Saudi Arabia will lead growth due to new visa arrangements and continued capacity development,” the report says, also noting Dubai’s “ability and desire to attract and host large-scale events of all types…” The picture is similar for domestic, with Saudi and the UAE reinforcing their leadership position in 2024.
The long-term picture is also positive for the region and Saudi in particular. Over the next decade, the value of inbound leisure tourism to the country will increase by 74%, comparable with the growth profile for established markets such as Spain (74%) and France (72%).
Juliette Losardo, Exhibition Director, World Travel Market London, said: “The Middle East is one the most exciting and dynamic regions for tourism. The positive findings from WTM Global Travel Report show that the initial investments made in developing new tourism infrastructure are already paying dividends.
“The WTM team continue to work closely with our sister event, Arabian Travel Market, to ensure continued support to the region in its ongoing endeavours.”