Saudi reforms ring in exciting times for region
The recent opening up of Saudi Arabia will provide long-haul travellers with a more diverse product and experience portfolio, World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) president & CEO, Gloria Guevara Manzo, told TTN in an exclusive interview.
“These are exciting times - the fact that Saudi Arabia is opening up to the world is amazing – it will help the entire region. Long-haul tourists and travellers often look for multiple destinations, for a couple of different experiences not just one and with Saudi Arabia opening up, this provides long-haul travellers to see more of the Middle East.
“We see a lot of potential in this region. Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah are great examples of long-term planning and good strategy to foster growth in travel and tourism. Tourists visiting the UAE, for instance, may now also consider increasing their length of stay to visit Saudi Arabia.”
Last month, the first-ever WTTC Middle East & North Africa Leaders Forum 2019 was held in partnership with Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority at Al Hamra International Exhibition & Conference Centre. The one-day forum brought together CEOs and regional travel and tourism leaders, along with tourism ministers and regional experts.
“We have two women representing Saudi Arabia in our forum; this sends a powerful message, a message of transformation”
– Gloria Guevara
Prior to their UAE visit, over 50 of WTTC members were invited to visit Riyadh in Saudi Arabia to attend the launch of Saudi Tourism Board’s ‘open hearts, open doors’ strategy on World Tourism Day.
“Personally speaking, when I was in Saudi Arabia doing my speech for open hearts, open doors – I felt very welcome, almost at home,” Manzo told TTN.
“I’m very impressed with what’s happening in North Africa as well, particularly in Egypt. I had the chance to visit the country in February 2016 - they were still feeling the impact of the crises then. Since Rania Al Mashat took over as minister of tourism, however, things have changed remarkably for the better.
“I am a big fan of Rania. The growth in Egypt is fantastic, it’s in two digits, Egypt is one of the five countries in the world with this kind of growth.”
The direct contribution of travel and tourism to the Middle East’s GDP is predicted to rise by 4.2 per cent per annum to $133.6 billion by 2028, according to data by WTTC.
For almost 30 years, WTTC has quantified the economic impact of the sector in 185 countries. This research consistently shows that travel and tourism is a key driver for investment and economic growth globally. The sector contributes $8.8 trillion or 10.4 per cent of global GDP, and accounts for 319 million jobs or one in ten of all jobs on the planet.
Members include over 170 CEOs, chairs and presidents of the world’s leading travel and tourism companies from all geographies covering all industries.
“We are now driving change; we are influencing the agenda, not only with biometrics but also with issues such as climate change, with our recent WTTC Climate And Environment Action Forum in partnership with United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”
With regards to the issue of gender equality, the travel and tourism sector is very supportive of women, representing a healthy and fair 50 per cent of the total workforce, says Manzo. “We don’t have that many women in the higher ranks perhaps but I am seeing this attitude change right before my eyes, not just in the CEOs who are members of WTTC but also in government bodies, it is not unusual to see women ministers these days,” says Manzo, who herself has been the tourism minister of Mexico.
“Just have a look at our speakers today – we have two women representing Saudi Arabia in our forum today - without making a loud noise, this sends a powerful message, a message of transformation of the country. Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman and youngest Arab to summit Mount Everest is here as is Princess Haifa Mohammed Al Saud, VP of Strategy and Planning, Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage (SCTH) - they are prime examples of women in leadership.
“Women are transforming this part of the world. It is not that we are replacing men, we just bring different ideas and perspectives and complement each other,” says Manzo.