Reinventing the GCC’s tourism eco-systems
, September 22, 2013
In recent years, the countries of the GCC have collectively played host to millions of tourists, with arrival numbers increasing in most destinations. However, there is still a widening gap between the opportunity that these nations have in their tourism sectors, and what they have actually achieved.
Only two Gulf states – the UAE and Qatar – rank in the top three on World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index. In effect, GCC states today have a considerable amount of work to do if they want to boost their share of tourism receipts and realize the considerable socioeconomic benefits that come with that, said a study by management consulting firm Booz & Company.
In line with this premise, Booz said it has formulated a framework to develop and execute a successful tourism sector strategy. And, the recommendations have special relevance in the GCC – where tourism represents a particularly rich opportunity.
Over the next 20 years, the number of global tourist arrivals is set to rise by as much as 70 per cent, to 1.8 billion every year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
If there was any question about the industry’s economic vitality, this statistic answers it: tourism already accounts for nine per cent of the world’s economic output. Simply put, tourism dollars bring many benefits to destination countries.
"A heavily visited country – one that takes in hundreds of millions, or billions, in tourism dollars – has a natural way of preserving its historic sites, generating support for small businesses, and burnishing its image,” remarked George Atalla, a partner with Booz & Company.
“Tourism income can also be a mechanism for fulfilling parts of a country’s economic agenda – including human capital development and economic diversification,” he added.
Economic Impact of Tourism
Tourism was a $2.68 trillion economic activity in 2012 in terms of its direct contribution to global output. However, Booz & Company’s bench¬marking study of almost two-dozen countries reveals that tourism brings many additional benefits to national economies.
“For instance, tourism has a multiplier effect: when tourism spending goes up, other sectors of the economy, such as retail and construction, may rise along with it,” explained Antoine Nasr, a Principal with Booz & Company.
"Tourism also has an impact on employment. The opening of a new theme park, for instance, can mean hundreds or even thousands of new jobs for the local population. There are also indirect effects, with jobs created in supporting businesses, such as food, lodging, and transportation companies," he added.
According to him, the GCC tourism market, which consists of domestic, regional, and international travelers, has witnessed significant recent growth. "To develop the sector systematically, policymakers will need to bear in mind the tourism sector’s six key competitive advantages as well as its three major disadvantages," he said.
These include GCC countries’ ability to invest in capital-intensive tourism products; their large airport capacities with easy connections to major tourism markets; their strong appeal as business tourism destinations; the region’s emerging cultural amenities; the long “weather window” for sun-seeking tourists; and, the GCC nations’ stability and reputation for safety, he added.
For the most part, GCC governments have not devoted much attention to their tourism sectors. This has resulted in three major disadvantages:
*Subpar assortment of tourism products: GCC tourism products have three deficiencies. The first is their limited variety – that is, the tendency to focus on a single product. The second deficiency involves product quality; for example, despite the amount of shoreline that all of the countries have, the UAE’s beaches are the only ones in the GCC with Blue Flag certifications. Finally, GCC nations have not sufficiently marketed or promoted their existing products.
*Insufficiently developed sector enablers. By and large, GCC countries are not focusing on the activities that other countries use to bolster their tourism sectors. Most GCC states do not have a long-term strategic plan for their tourism divisions. Moreover, they do not invest heavily in the sector.
*Systems that inhibit tourism instead of encouraging it. GCC countries have relatively restrictive visa requirements and significant challenges in the area of environmental sustainability, reflected in low scores for air quality and waste-management practices.
In countries where tourism has the most economic impact, the sector is integrated into the national development strategy and the long-term national vision, said the Booz & Co study.
Indeed, the development of a national tourism strategy typically follows three critical steps:
*Define the Tourism Sector Ecosystem
To get an accurate picture of its tourism ecosystem, a country needs to know what it is doing – or not doing – with respect to each of the three parts that make up the ecosystem. A nation should start building this picture by taking inventory of all the tourism products and services it has to offer – such as culture, sun and beach, nature, sports, and lodging/food.
“The ecosystem can be further defined by looking at the country’s tourism-sector enablers,” explained Atalla.
“In most states, the sector enablers fall into five categories: planning, promotion, marketing, human capital develop¬ment, and research and statistics. A central tourism planning entity (CTPE) typically oversees these activities, and acts as a catalyst for the diversification of the country’s tourism offerings and the increase in tourism-related investments,” he said.
The picture is then completed by the system enablers, namely health and safety, security, environmental sustainability and infrastructure. These are essential aspects of any country’s identity, and they can have a big impact on its appeal as a tourist destination.
In this next step, a country determines its primary geographic target markets – a process which entails eliminating all the outbound tourist markets that are under a certain size and beyond a certain distance.
After that, it ranks the remaining markets, using characteristics such as the number of outbound tourists, expected future growth in outbound tourist numbers, and the average expenditure of tourists from the country. Finally, each target market is segmented by type of tourist.
“The key question that nations need to answer centers on product prioritization,” said Nasr.
“And, this depends on three dimensions: product attractiveness, which is the intrinsic demand for the product, now and in the future; product readiness, which measures the quality and variety of the product; and competition, which shows the extent to which other GCC and Mena countries offer similar products,” he pointed out.
The intelligence that results from this analysis can allow CTPEs to make decisions about which products to prioritize. After it has done the market segmentation and laid out its tourism products in this way, the GCC state must make a decision about what its tourism value propositions are going to be.
Should it pitch itself as a place for other Arabs to come for comfort and recreation? Or, market itself as a destination for outdoor adventures? Should it emphasize its advantages for business meetings and its appeal to business travelers?
Develop Tourism Sector Institutional Framework
The next step is to set up an institutional framework – and make sure the CTPE is focused on the right things. In general, CTPEs are responsible for policy setting; regula-tion setting and enforcement; and in certain cases, development and execution, according to the study.
However, in some states, a national tourism development entity works side by side with the CTPE, focusing on key tourism projects and the development of partnerships with the private sector, it stated.
In reality, there is no single “right” institutional framework. And, while it is useful to understand how countries with thriving tourism sectors use their CTPEs, this perspective alone does not yield definitive answers. GCC tourism officials need to apply this intelligence to their own institutional frameworks if they are to refocus their CTPEs on the correct priorities for maximum impact, said the study.
In its conclusion, Booz said tourism represented a colossal economic opportunity for the Gulf countries as they have many existing assets that they can use to attract global travellers – from modern airports to pleasant beaches, and cultural and archeological sites.
To date, however, most of these nations have not made tourism a priority, nor have they realigned their institutions to adequately tap into related opportunities.
Now is the right time to take advantage of substantial national investments in infrastructure and human capital to begin the transformation of the GCC’s tourism sector, it added.-TradeArabia News Service