Building a resilient tourism sector in the COVID-19 era: challenges and opportunities in the Mediterranean
Middle East Members Meet as UNWTO Opens New Office in Riyadh
Members of the UNWTO Regional Commission for the Middle East have agreed to work on the creation of harmonized protocols to support the resumption of regional travel in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 13 Members of the UNWTO Regional Commission for the Middle East met in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the day after the United Nations specialised agency for tourism celebrated the official opening of a UNWTO Regional Office in the Middle East. High on the agenda was adopting a coordinated approach to developing unified protocols for safe and responsible travel throughout the region.
The UNWTO Middle East Member States have agreed to work together on core initiatives intended to harmonize travel protocols and reinvigorate regional travel through:
- Developing a common framework to reopen international borders;
- Creating approved Public Health Corridors between destinations to promote specific tourism experiences and relaunch hotspot tourism destinations;
- Implementing a common digital health solution to facilitate travellers’ experience through interoperability and blockchain as technologies to help develop common standards; and
- Working to implement the IATA-UNWTO destination tracker, a monitoring system to track health data, regulations and movements across borders and to protect the health and welfare of the region’s 450 million inhabitants.
Nations around the world are struggling to overcome the pandemic that has such a devastating impact on the global tourism sector
Historic week for Middle East tourism
UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili, presented his report to the Regional Commission. The report outlined how UNWTO had worked with all Members and Affiliate Members across the region, most notably supporting them in their unique and shared response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This agreement opens a new chapter in regional tourism across the Middle East and sets a standard of collaboration for other regions,” said Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO Secretary General. “Nations around the world are struggling to overcome the pandemic that has such a devastating impact on the global tourism sector. The more countries seek to follow an independent path out of the crisis, the longer it will take to rebuild the millions of livelihoods affected. It is only through unity and collaboration across borders that we can move beyond these dark times and make the benefits of tourism available to the world once more.
His Excellency Ahmed bin Aqil Al-Khateeb, Minister of Tourism of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also addressed the Regional Commission, held during an historic week for the Kingdom, UNWTO and tourism in the Middle East. He said: “Saudi Arabia is proud to have played a role in this critical announcement, which will create a new path forward for the Middle East tourism sector, not only in recovering from the coronavirus pandemic but in building a new regional culture of collaboration and coordination for tourism across the Middle East.”
Against the backdrop of the landmark opening of the new UNWTO Regional Office in Riyadh nominations and elections to the statutory organs of UNWTO and their subsidiary bodies were also held, fulfilling UNWTO’s commitment to protocol even in challenging times. Egypt was voted to serve as the Chair of the Regional Commission for the Middle East for 2021-23, following on from the United Arab Emirates whose two year-term will end at the upcoming UNWTO General Assembly in Marrakesh in October. Additionally, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia put forward its candidacy to host World Tourism Day when it rotates back to the Middle East region in 2023. Member States will be asked to ratify the candidacy at the General Assembly.
World Bank collaboration
At the same time, UNWTO continues to advance another key priority, promoting investment in tourism. In Riyadh, UNWTO announced a new landmark collaboration with the World Bank Group and the Saudi Ministry of Tourism. A new Memorandum of Understanding will see the three organizations collaborate on the activation of the Tourism Community Initiative and work towards the establishment of a global Multi-Donor Trust Fund exclusively devoted to tourism.
Focus on education
UNWTO and the Ministry of Tourism of Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to scale up the UNWTO Tourism Online Academy, which counts on the support of IE University. The main objective will be the creation of 50 online open courses available in five languages, with leading academic institutions providing specific content to train and certify more than 30,000 professionals across the Middle East.
UNWTO Makes History with Opening of a Regional Office in the Middle East
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has opened a Regional Office for the Middle East, bringing the United Nations specialized agency closer to its Members and advancing on its commitment to guiding the development of tourism in every global region.
At a ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili was joined by Her Royal Highness Princess Haifa Al-Saud, Deputy Minister of Tourism for Strategy and Investment, and the Kingdom’s Minister for Tourism, His Excellency Ahmed Al Khateeb to officially open the office. They were also joined by Tourism Ministers from across both Middle East and from every other global region, as well as by leaders from the private sector.
A hub for growth and symbol of hope
The UNWTO Regional Office will be a centre of conversation, debate and decision-making and bring hope to many people across the region allowing them to enjoy the social and economic benefits only tourism can deliver
The new office will serve as a hub for UNWTO to coordinate policy and initiatives across its 13 Member States in the region. This includes a number of tourism projects and products, among them the new “Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO”, launched on the occasion of the opening of the Regional Office. Alongside this, Riyadh will also be home to an expanded UNWTO International Tourism Academy, providing opportunities for people of all backgrounds from across the region, including women and youth.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The UNWTO Regional Office will be a centre of conversation, debate and decision-making and bring hope to many people across the region allowing them to enjoy the social and economic benefits only tourism can deliver. Work on the office began after the start of the pandemic, proof of our determination and the strong support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres congratulated UNWTO on the occasion, saying “I believe that this Office will help the Middle East region recover its tourism sector as well as support the growth of rural tourism development worldwide.”
His Excellency Ahmed Al Khateeb, Saudi Minister for Tourism, added: “We are thrilled to host the new Regional Office in Saudi Arabia. This demonstrates our commitment to working with our partners at the UNWTO to develop a strong industry based on the principles of sustainability and opportunities for all, across the region and globally.”
UNWTO also contributed expert insights to the Tourism Recovery Summit, organized by the Saudi Ministry of Tourism and held against the backdrop of the Regional Office opening.