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A bright future for tourism in the GCC countries



In the Middle East, annual visitor arrivals are estimated at 101 million by 2020 and 149 million by 2030, as in the GCC countries, hospitality industry is forecast to reach $35.9 billion by 2018 with an annual growth rate of 9.5%[1]. Makkah has the largest number of rooms under construction, followed by Dubai, Riyadh and Doha[2].

In addition to more traditional forms of activities as Islamic travel and desert tourism explorations, Gulf States are attracting new forms of tourism based on leisure, recreation, business, retail and sports. Thus, some of the GCC countries’ characteristics constitute real assets for this sector. First, they have the means to develop products that attract travelers for work or leisure. Indeed, the region has made major investments in infrastructure for international events, like the World Expo 2020 in Dubai or the 2022 FIFA Football World Cup in Qatar, and amusement parks continue to spring up as Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi or Legoland in Dubai.

There has been a strong investment in airports, allowing the region to have easy connections to main tourism markets. The GCC countries are expected to handle 250 million passengers by 2020[3] and Dubai International Airport is already the first world’s busiest airport by international passenger traffic with almost 70 million passengers and is expected to reach 90 million by 2020[4] while Qatar’s Hamad International Airport exceeded its forecasted capacity of 30 million passengers and was ranked second best airport in the Middle East[5].

On the other hand, GCC countries have a solid image as business tourism destinations and a recent report shows that their MICE – Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing and Exhibitions – industry is seeing continuous growth[6]. Indeed, international association meetings in the Middle East have more than tripled over the past ten years and business visitors account for over 30% of travelers coming to the GCC region.


[1] Alpen Capital, 2014

[2] January Pipeline Report, STR Global, 2016

[3] GCC hospitality industry set to reach $35.9b by 2018, Gulf News, 09/24/14

[4] Airports Council International, 2015

[5] Airport Service Quality Awards (ASQ), 2016

[6] Alpen Capital, 2015


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