What to expect from 2020

Winter at Tantora Festival, Saudi Arabia

Even as carbon footprint becomes a bigger issue every passing year, there is no reason to expect a slowdown in the demand for inbound and outbound travel from the Middle East, be it leisure or corporate or business.

The year will see a rapid increase in travellers heading to Saudi Arabia from around the world as the world’s last frontier opens up to tourists. With the inaugural Saudi Seasons taking place across major Saudi cities in 2019, entertainment and leisure are being put on the forefront. Gender discrimination is being addressed and other challenges towards free travel are being tackled head on as the government becomes serious about increasing tourism revenues.

AlUla Desert Polo, the first tournament in Saudi Arabia to be held in cooperation with the Saudi Polo Federation, will debut this month from January 16 to 18, as part of the Winter at Tantora cultural festival. Cradled against the backdrop of one of Arabia’s best kept secrets - the exquisite Unesco heritage site in AlUla that will officially open to the public in October 2020 – AlUla Desert Polo represents a milestone in Saudi Arabia’s sporting and social journey.

As arguably the world’s most conservative country shakes up its system, inclusion and diversity will likely become the watchwords for the rest of the region too, as the other countries vie for supremacy. This homogenisation spells more competition and is good news for all – inside the workplace and in society.

A good example of inclusion in action is the recently concluded guest trials of autonomous wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport, headed by Etihad Airways, Abu Dhabi Airports and WHILL personal electric vehicle suppliers.

Economy travel will no doubt get a boost when more details emerge about the recent partnership between Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Company and Wizz Air, regarding a yet-to-be announced low-cost carrier based out of Abu Dhabi.

Cruise travel is expected to pick up in the region this year as well. Norwegian Cruise Line is hiring a regional representative to drive the uptake of cruising in the GCC region, while Royal Caribbean representative Safeen Tourism has recently moved into a larger office space as it expects an increase in walk-in customers looking for cruise products in the future. TBO Holidays has also launched a cruise division late last year, as it sees potential growth in that segment in the region.

With Expo 2020 Dubai taking place from October, the second half of the year will likely see a significant amount of inbound as well as intra-regional travel. Expo 2020 expects 25 million visits, with 70 per cent of visitors coming from outside the UAE, providing the hospitality industry with an unmissable opportunity to show the world what the UAE has to offer.

The first Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, Expo 2020 Dubai will take place between October 20 and April 10 the following year. During the peak six months of Expo 2020, visitor spending on tickets, merchandise, food and beverage, hotels, flights and local transport will propel economic activity.

High occupancy during the Expo period may mean that staycations, one of the favourite activities of UAE residents during extended weekends and short holidays, may become a bit more expensive, driving leisure traffic outside the UAE.