More than 25 ministers have taken part in the second annual UNWTO & Ministerial Forum at the Arabian Travel Market with delegates sharing their views on how to work together towards long-term aviation and tourism sector growth.
Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE vice president and prime minister and ruler of Dubai, the event, entitled ‘Tourism & Aviation: Building a common agenda for growth’, was opened by UNWTO secretary-general, Taleb Rifai and Mark Walsh, portfolio director, Reed Travel Exhibitions, organiser of ATM.
Addressing the issue of tourism and aviation Rifai highlighted that tourism and aviation need to move out of working in silos.
“Tourism and aviation are siblings, and have been working together in parallel lines. We cannot see them separate from one another; with 52 per cent of world travellers reaching their destination by air, their growth is intrinsically linked,” he added.
Mark Walsh is joined by World Travel Awards founder Graham Cooke during the event
The UNWTO address set the scene for the ensuing discussion, which was dominated by the challenges and opportunities facing the aviation sector in the region, with Rifai touching on the related twin issues of taxation and visa facilitation.
“There are visa regimes still belonging to a century that has past,” added Rifai.
“Despite the fact that the UAE and Dubai are leading the way in opening up in terms of visa accessibility, the Middle East is still lagging behind as 70 per cent of people still need visas to enter the region,” he said.
HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, left, joins Taleb Rifai
HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, launched the debate by reaffirming the region’s geographical relevance to the tourism sector.
“The Arabian Peninsula has always been a crossroads for different civilisations. These days those roads are in the sky rather than on the ground, and the same role that Arabia has played in the past is now similarly happening with airline networks,” he said.
“The alliance between tourism and air transportation is very much a non-separable alliance, and it is very important focus on aligning these two sectors to make places more accessible and affordable.”
HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, left, celebrates with WTA president Graham Cooke
Highlighting the potential of regional cooperation, HE Reem Al Hashemi, minister of state and managing director of the higher committee on International Expo Dubai 2020, said: “For mega events, we have to build synergies and expand the traveller experience. Expo 2020 is not just about Dubai, the region will benefit with visitors going on to explore Muscat or Petra, for example.
“We are promoting the region as a whole, expanding the picture, becoming more attractive and appealing - both to visitors but also to other airlines.”
HE Helal Saeed Al Marri, director general, department of tourism and commerce marketing, Dubai, used the Middle East as a prime example of how tourism and aviation can work together, and what the rest of the world can learn from the region.
A decision on who will host Expo 2020 will be taken in November this year
First and foremost, to foster tourism and look to the future, countries and cities should look at adopting open skies policies.
The development of airport, attractions and hotels are all important but the key is to allow airlines to fly without restrictions,” he concluded.