More than 25 ministers took part in the second annual UNWTO & Ministerial Forum at the Arabian Travel Market with delegates sharing their views on how to work together towards long-term aviation and tourism sector growth.
Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, the event, entitled “Tourism & Aviation: Building a common agenda for growth,” was opened by UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, and Mark Walsh, Portfolio Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions, organizer of ATM.
Addressing the issue of tourism and aviation Mr. Rifai highlighted that tourism and aviation need to move out of working in silos. “Tourism and aviation are siblings, and have been working together in parallel lines. We cannot see them separate from one another; with 52% of world travelers reaching their destination by air, their growth is intrinsically linked,” he added.
The UNWTO address set the scene for the ensuing discussion, which was dominated by the challenges and opportunities facing the aviation sector in the region, with Mr. Rifai touching on the related twin issues of taxation and visa facilitation. “There are visa regimes still belonging to a century that has past. Despite the fact that the UAE and Dubai are leading the way in opening up in terms of visa accessibility, the Middle East is still lagging behind as 70% of people still need visas to enter the region,” he said.
HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, President of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, launched the debate by reaffirming the region’s geographical relevance to the tourism sector.
“The Arabian Peninsula has always been a crossroads for different civilizations. These days those roads are in the sky rather than on the ground, and the same role that Arabia has played in the past is now similarly happening with airline networks,” he said, adding, “The alliance between tourism and air transportation is very much a non-separable alliance, and it is very important focus on aligning these two sectors to make places more accessible and affordable.”
Highlighting the potential of regional cooperation, HE Reem Al Hashemi, Minister of State and Managing Director of the Higher Committee on International Expo Dubai 2020, said: “For mega events, we have to build synergies and expand the traveler experience. Expo 2020 is not just about Dubai, the region will benefit with visitors going on to explore Muscat or Petra, for example. We are promoting the region as a whole, expanding the picture, becoming more attractive and appealing – both to visitors but also to other airlines.”
HE Helal Saeed Al Marri, Director General, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing of Dubai, used the Middle East as a prime example of how tourism and aviation can work together, and what the rest of the world can learn from the region. “First and foremost, to foster tourism and look to the future, countries and cities should look at adopting open skies policies. The development of airport, attractions, and hotels are all important but the key is to allow airlines to fly without restrictions,” he commented.
Participants stressed the need to identify the links between tourism and aviation and set structures where tourism, civil aviation and airlines can work together. Other issues highlighted were the need to extend the principle of liberalization to more and more countries, the opportunities existing for regional cooperation in the Middle East, particularly in view of attracting long haul markets and the importance of aligning tourism objectives with airlines profitability.
Participating in the Ministerial Forum were the Ministers of Tourism of Bahamas, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Gambia, Lebanon, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Niger, Oman, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Seychelles, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, the Director General of the National Council of Tourism and Antiquities of the UAE, the Vice-Minister of Tourism of Azerbaijan, the Assistant Under Secretary of Tourism of Kuwait, the Director General of the Jordan Tourist Board and the CEO of the Mozambique Tourism Authority. Representing the aviation industry were the Vice President of International & Public Affairs of Etihad Airways, the CEO of Dubai Airports and the Senior Vice President, Revenue Optimization and Distribution, of Emirates Airline.
Concluding Mr. Rifai highlighted the importance of moving this agenda forward. “We have started a debate that has to go on and on. We will carry on at World Travel Market in London in co-operation with Reed Travel Exhibitions after setting a framework today and keep the conversation going.”
“The theme of Dubai’s Expo candidacy – connecting minds, creating the future – can become that which unites us together – so let’s connect our minds, put our thoughts together, and declare that we are on target to handle the issues of the time, and lead the way for the international community.”