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.
Regional Report on Women in Tourism in the Middle East
The Regional Report on Women in Tourism in the Middle East maps the participation of women in the tourism sector across the region prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, it assesses the contribution of tourism to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 – to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The report, compiled to mark the 2020 G20 Saudi Presidency, aims to inform further work on gender equality and equip stakeholders with tools they need to boost women’s empowerment in the region’s tourism sector.
Opportunities for Women in Tourism Increasing Across Middle East
Fewer than one in 10 tourism workers in the Middle East are women though this proportion is steadily increasing, new research has found. The Regional Report on Women in Tourism in the Middle East, released today by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the Ministry of Tourism of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, highlights the progress that has been made, as well as opportunities to further advance gender equality in the sector.
The new publication, which complements the Global Report on Women in Tourism, Second Edition, was compiled within the framework of the Saudi Arabia G20 2020 Presidency. It highlights the positive steps that have been taken at a policy level in recent years while demonstrating the work still needed to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 in the Middle East, particularly when compared with other world regions.
The key findings of the report show that:
- 8% of people employed in tourism in the region are women, compared to 16% in the overall economy of the region. At a global level 54% of people employed in tourism are women compared to 39% in the broader global economy
- Women are well-educated but not entering the tourism workforce.
Women have higher rates of tertiary education than men yet remain considerably underrepresented in employment.
- The public sector is leading the way for women in leadership roles.
21% of tourism Ministers are female in the region compared to 23% at a global level
UNWTO Secretary General, Zurab Pololikashvili, said “Tourism has historically provided abundant opportunities for women’s empowerment all over the world. In the Middle East, while there is much progress still to be made, our Member States are leading the charge. As tourism restarts, we will work with them to ensure gender equality remains center stage in their recovery plans, empowering women to become financially independent, challenge stereotypes and start their own businesses.”
Gender gaps in employment and entrepreneurship
The reports also shows that in employment, self-employment and SME ownership, women’s participation is significantly lower that men’s across the region with a reluctance towards working in tourism. Concerns over balancing family and work life conciliation and legislative barriers were all found to be among the primary contributing factors for this.
Public sector providing opportunities
According to the latest data, 21% of regional tourism minister positions were filled by women in 2019. The report also highlights a rich mosaic of women in senior tourism positions and a raft of policy level initiatives such as Saudi’s Vision 2030, Egypt’s Tourism Reform Programme and the United Arab Emirates’ Gender Balance Council.
The recent nature of many of these policy initiatives mean it is still too early to evaluate the results, particularly in the private sector. This report aims to act as a benchmark for future research into the effects of these policies and to catalyze further work towards gender-equality. Research is also considerably hampered by the lack of sex-disaggregated tourism data being collected and reported, with participation in UNWTO’s fledgling ‘Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism’ initiative forming one of the key recommendations of the report.
The General Supervisor for International Cooperation at the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Tourism, Ms. Haifa Al-Jedea, said: “Historically, women have played a vital role in tourism, and in light of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, Saudi has made a concerted effort to facilitate and encourage more women to participate in the sector through improved legislation, new policies, education, supporting SMEs and career development. We hope to be a leader for women’s empowerment in tourism and look forward to cooperating with our neighbors and international partners to break any remaining gender barriers in tourism locally and internationally.”