UNWTO: Middle East tourist numbers to double by 2020


ABU DHABI – The UN World Tourism Organization(UNWTO) predicted that the number of tourists to the Middle East will more than double by 2020 because of continued investment in the sector, The National newspaper reported Thursday.

The region will experience a growth rate almost double the world average, Amr Abdel-Ghaffar, the UNWTO regional representative for the Middle East, was quoted as saying at a seminar in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

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The number of tourists arriving will increase to 136 million by2020, up from 54 million last year, Abdel-Ghaffar said.

According to the UNWTO, the number of tourists arriving in the Middle East in the first seven months of this year dropped 13 percent compared with the same period last year as a result of the global economic slowdown.

In 2008, the region experienced a sharp growth of 18.2 percent.

“Generally speaking, the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries appear to be showing a fair degree of resilience to the global economic downturn,” Abdel-Ghaffar said.

The UAE saw a tourism growth of 3 percent in the first quarter of this year, according to the UNWTO.

Abu Dhabi is aiming to more than double the number of hotel guests to 2.3 million a year by 2012, down from a forecast of 2.7 million earlier this year. Dubai is aiming to attract 15 million visitors a year by 2015, which is about double last year’s figure.

“The impact of the A/H1N1 flu, coupled with the global economic crisis, is likely to boost regional and domestic hotel occupancies, as increasingly travellers may opt for destinations closer to home, within the region or even within their home countries,” Abdel-Ghaffar said.

The Middle East has 477 hotel projects, or 145,786 rooms, in the pipeline, with 53 percent already under construction, The National said, citing a report by Lodging Econometrics, a U.S. research firm.

The GCC, a regional trade bloc created in 1981, comprises the Gulf Arab states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.