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Middle East Members Focus on Tourism’s Sustainable Recovery

Middle East Members Focus on Tourism’s Sustainable Recovery

UNWTO has successfully celebrated the 48th session of its Regional Commission for the Middle East. Returning to Egypt for the third time since 2018, the Commission addressed the pressing challenges faced by tourism and looked to the future as the sector’s recovery gathers pace across the region.

According to the latest UNWTO data, international arrivals to destinations in the Middle East were 52% higher in January than in the same month of 2021. UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili told Members that the return of tourism represented a chance to reassert the values of the sector as a pillar of peace and prosperity, particularly given the background of economic uncertainty and an armed conflict in Europe.

In his report, the Secretary-General provided an overview of UNWTO’s work in the Middle East and globally for the past year. The report also focused on UNWTO’s strategic objectives and core priorities for the year ahead, including making tourism smarter, promoting green investments and entrepreneurship, supporting education and jobs, building resilience and protecting natural and cultural heritage. In the coming year, several new projects will be directed out of the UNWTO Regional Office for the Middle East, opened in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in May 2021. The office will focus on guiding sustainable tourism recovery in the region, with a focus on rural development and on innovation, education and investments.

Across the Middle East, tourism is growing in size and relevance, driving recovery and promoting sustainable development

Mr Pololikashvili said: “Across the Middle East, tourism is growing in size and relevance, driving recovery and promoting sustainable development. UNWTO’s Members in the region are committed to realizing the unique potential of tourism, and the Organization is committed to working closely with its Members around innovation, sustainability, jobs and education as our shared priorities.”

UNWTO’s enhanced presence across the region was highlighted through reference to a wide range of country-specific projects and partnerships, including online training in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, a special statistics workshop in Bahrain, crisis communications training in Lebanon and an action plan on women’s empowerment in Jordan.

Sustainability and capacity building

Members warmly welcomed updates on UNWTO’s actions in the region, designed to help the sector become more inclusive, sustainable and resilient. Through the Green Hotel Revitalization Programme, UNWTO is working with the International Finance Corporation to train more than 30 hotels in Egypt in adopting sustainability practices and reducing their carbon footprints. UNWTO is also stepping up capacity building across the region, with a focus on gender equality and youth empowerment.

In Cairo, delegates were provided with a comprehensive overview of the Organization’s work in this area, including through the creation of a UNWTO Knowledge Lab for the region and through the provision of a new range of training and educational courses in the Arabic language, most notably through a new e-learning project being implemented in partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom will fund 1,300 scholarships for students from 13 Members States, to foster human capital development and youth empowerment across the region.

Strengthening high-level ties

UNWTO informed about the close collaboration with the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab Tourism Organization, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Islamic Development Bank.

Welcoming such collaboration, Dr. Khaled El-Enany, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt credited the Regional Commission as a platform to draw a roadmap for the sector’s future. He said: “Basing our work on UNWTO's guidelines, we protected jobs through the crisis and now are now in a strong position to recover and grow back better. Ahead of Egypt’s hosting of the COP27 climate summit, we will continue to make tourism a pillar of sustainability, as well as a vital protector of our famous heritage and culture.”

Members decided that the 49th Regional Commission for the Middle East will be held in Jordan in 2023, while Lebanon will host the 50th meeting in 2024.

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Innovation, Education and Rural Development: UNWTO Strengthens Partnership with Saudi Arabia

Innovation, Education and Rural Development: UNWTO Strengthens Partnership with Saudi Arabia

UNWTO and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have agreed on the next steps they will jointly take to establish tourism as a driver of growth, opportunity and development across the Middle East and beyond.

Less than a year after the official opening of the Regional Office for the Middle East in Riyadh, plans for a range of projects to be run out of the hub have been further advanced, signalling the ever closer cooperation between UNWTO and the Kingdom.

A range of projects is being designed to establish UNWTO’s Regional Office as a leader in tourism for rural development while also making the opportunities of tourism available to everyone through a range of education initiatives. Meeting in Madrid this week, UNWTO Secretary-General Pololikashvili and Saudi Minister for Tourism HE Ahmed Aqeel AlKhateeb agreed to further advance their shared vision and committed to working closely together to fulfil the sector’s potential across the region.

Rural Development and digitalization 

Among the projects being managed by the Regional Office is the UNWTO Global Tourism and Rural Development Programme, aimed at making tourism a pillar of growth and opportunity for rural communities. The Programme includes the world’s Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO initiative, now in its second year after the inaugural competition drew huge interest from destinations in every global region. Alongside this, the Regional Office will also focus on knowledge creation for policy and business practices, training and skills development and Technical Assistance on the ground, with plans also in place to establish a first Tourism and Rural Development Observatory in Riyadh.

Secretary-General Pololikashvili and HE Minister Ahmed Aqeel AlKhateeb emphasised their commitment to guiding tourism based on education and innovation. From the Regional Office, UNWTO will support Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) embrace digitalization with partnerships with the largest technology companies such as Amadeus, Mastercard, Cisco, Telefónica, amongst others already established. The UNWTO Digital Futures Programme aims to provide training on connectivity, e-commerce, big data and analytics, and online payments and security, to as many as 20,000 SMEs in 22 countries, including 5,000 in the first 12 months. Later this month (25-26 March), a UNWTO Tourism Tech Adventures innovation forum will be in the United Arab Emirates.

Education

To realize the goal of creating more added-value jobs in tourism through education. To this end, a new UNWTO Knowledge Lab will be launched from Riyadh, while a first Observatory on Quality of Tourism Education and Jobs will also be established to monitor the advancement of the strategy. To ensure the benefits of tourism education are enjoyed as widely as possible, 10 new online courses will be made available in Arabic through the UNWTO Tourism Online Academy, and UNWTO will also work with higher education providers from the region through the new Tourism Faculty Development Programme.

Green investments for green transitions

In line with UNWTO’s wider commitment to advancing tourism for climate action, plans are in place to make the Regional Office for the Middle East a hub for promoting green investments in the tourism sector, both in the region and worldwide, including through projects developed in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and other partners such as the Saudi Tourism Development Fund (TDF) – responding to the UNWTO climate action framework ,outlined in the Glasgow Declaration, launched at COP26.

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48th UNWTO Regional Commission for the Middle East and the “Tourism Awareness and Human Capacity Building: Towards a Sustainable Tourism Society” Conference

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UNWTO Tourism Tech Adventure UAE | The Future of Tourism in the sidelines of the EXPO 2020: 'Connecting Minds, Creating the Future'

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UNWTO and NEOM Launch ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ Challenge

UNWTO and NEOM Launch ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ Challenge

UNWTO and NEOM have partnered for a new initiative focused on the future of tourism in Saudi Arabia.

UNWTO and NEOM have partnered for a new initiative focused on the future of tourism in Saudi Arabia
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Neom

The ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ challenge will source innovative ideas and disruptive business models related to the tourism needs of the future, in line with growing demand for new experiences. All proposals must be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and should include the introduction or adaptation of digital and technological elements, as well as being focused at least one of the following areas:

  • Optimizing and maximizing the potential of experiential tourism
  • Harnessing the positive impact of new technology
  • Alternative business models
  • Innovative experiences

The competition is the first national initiative dedicated to identifying new companies that will lead the tourism sector’s transformation in Saudi Arabia. As well as established businesses, the competition also welcomes applications from Saudi Arabian start-ups and innovators with ideas capable of revolutionizing and inspiring tourists by presenting new ways and reasons to travel.

Applications are open until 2 November, with great interest expected, and participants must be Saudi citizens with legal capacity to enter into a contract. Successful projects will be selected based on various criteria, such as the degree of innovation, their viability and sustainability.

An Affiliate Member of UNWTO since 2019, NEOM is an accelerator of human progress and a vision of what a new future might look like. Located in northwest Saudi Arabia along the Red Sea, NEOM is ideally situated at the crossroads of the world, comprising a total area of 26,500 km². A special authority has been established to oversee NEOM, chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

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Women of the Middle East and Tourism in 60 minutes

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Middle East Members Meet as UNWTO Opens New Office in Riyadh

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:

  1. Developing a common framework to reopen international borders;
  2. Creating approved Public Health Corridors between destinations to promote specific tourism experiences and relaunch hotspot tourism destinations;
  3. Implementing a common digital health solution to facilitate travellers’ experience through interoperability and blockchain as technologies to help develop common standards; and
  4. 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.

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UNWTO Makes History with Opening of a Regional Office in 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.

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Opening of the UNWTO Regional Office for the Middle East | Tourism Recovery Summit

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