UAE tops as popular tourist destination for 2021; Signals sector recovery

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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The UAE will be among the most popular tourist destinations of 2021 globally, which will be benefited the most from a sudden upswing in the country’s tourism industry in the new year, experts suggest.

A recent study has placed the UAE as the most popular tourist destination for 2021. It topped the list of a survey conducted by a global travel company, Kuoni, which revealed that the country is the world’s most searched destination for 2021 for tourism, among 11 countries.

Nicolas Mayer, the global industry leader for Tourism & Hospitality at PwC, opined that the recovery of the tourism and hospitality sector will be based on how swiftly the tourism destinations and source markets reconstruct a trust in each other.

The confidence in the industry will only be strengthened by a positive result from the global inoculation programs, but it also depends on the ability of national authorities to coordinate with agility and on the private sector to work together positively and transparently towards rebuilding trust in commercial relations.

“I am encouraged to see that in the GCC region both the authorities and the private sector have been amongst the most agile and proactive globally and that therefore our region should be amongst those destinations benefitting the fastest from the expected upswing,” Mr. Mayer added.

The important source markets of UAE tourism are the regions where the vaccine response is not far progressed like in Europe, therefore the visitors’ number from these origin markets will take time to get back to a pre-pandemic level.

Tim Cordon, area senior vice president for the Middle East & Africa region at the international hotel chain Radisson, says that the recovery of the hospitality industry and international travel will be based on the COVID-19 vaccine and will be different for each countries and areas around the world.

“We have been fortunate that many countries in the Middle East have already started to see a recovery in the fourth quarter of 2020, be it from the domestic or international market,” Mr. Cordon stated.

Before the pandemic, the World Travel and Tourism Council had predicted that the direct contribution of travel and tourism to the Middle East’s GDP will reach $133.6 billion by 2028.

“Looking at the future of the travel and hospitality industry in general, I believe we will see much more technology, and it will be a key tool in the revival of our sector. Almost every aspect of the hospitality experience will have a digital component,” Mr. Cordon added.

Key trends to monitor

Nicolas Mayer
Nicolas Mayer
Industry leader for Tourism & Hospitality

“I believe one of the positive effects of an otherwise very tragic 2020 situation is that citizens and residents across the world have discovered or rediscovered their own home country as a tourist destination. This has happened globally, and in the GCC this development was particularly strong in UAE and KSA. I believe that staycations will remain an important, larger segment of overall tourism, even once the situation goes back to a normal one.”

Tim Cordon stated that over the past few months, many residents have been opting for mini getaways and staycations, preferring to stay within their country, due to the international travel ban. Google searches related to staycations in the Middle East and North Africa have risen more than 400 percent since March.

One type of international visitor arrivals that may still not recover substantially in 2021 is business travel, Mayer pointed out. “Currently, the hurdles to business travel are often still quite cumbersome. Many companies are also looking at sources of savings, and business travel expenses are one area where many global players have decided to realize some of these savings,” he added.

However, a sustained increase of long-term visits can be seen, from visitors that chose a certain region as a temporary home from where to work and play. They will opt for locations they trust and where they will be able to experience the most optimal mix of professional opportunities and leisure offerings.

The new remote worker visa options offered in Dubai will accelerate that trend, and we will see significant growth in the “workation” segment.