THE United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) says the extraordinary growth of international tourism over the six last decades – from 25 million tourists in 1950 to one billion in 2012 – is as much due to advances in air transport as to the rise of the middle class, the growing wealth in industrialised and emerging countries and the forces of globalisation.
“Tourism and aviation are siblings, and have been working together in parallel lines. With 52 per cent of world travellers reaching their destination by air, their growth is intrinsically linked,” said UNWTO secretary-general Taleb Rifai at the second annual UNWTO and Ministerial Forum which was at the Arabian Travel Market last month.
Held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, the event, entitled “Tourism and Aviation: Building a common agenda for growth” was attended by more than 25 ministers from all over the word to share their views with delegates on how to work together towards long-term aviation and tourism sector growth.
HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, said: “The Arabian Peninsula has always been a crossroads for different civilisations. These days, the roads are in the sky rather than on the ground, and once again we are at the crossroads of a global airline network,” he said. “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 co-operation, 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 traveller experience.”
He explained that with Expo 2020, the region will benefit with visitors going on to explore other parts of the region as well.
Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) director general Helal Saeed Al Marri used the Middle East as an prime example of how tourism and aviation can work together. “First and foremost, 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 said.
Rifai also touched on the twin issues of taxation and visa facilitation. “Despite the fact that the UAE and Dubai are leading the way in visa accessibility, the Middle East is still lagging behind as 70 per cent of people still need visas to enter the region.”
“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.”
Tourism ministers at the forum came from the 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. Other attendees included the director general of the National Council of Tourism and Antiquities of the UAE, the Vice-Minister of Tourism of Azerbaijan, the director general of the Jordan Tourist Board and the CEO of the Mozambique Tourism Authority.
The aviation industry was represented by the vice president international and public affairs of Etihad Airways, the CEO of Dubai Airports, and the senior vice president, revenue optimisation and distribution of Emirates airline.
By Shilpa Santhosh
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