Despite the effort of GCC countries to boost tourism investments, Saudi investors still prefer investing in Europe and the Far East and avoid investment in GCC countries.
Ibrahim Al-Nabhani, chairman of the Tourism Committee at the GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry Union, explained that Gulf countries are seeking to attract both Gulf and foreign investors to revive the tourism sector, following reluctance of local companies and individuals to invest in the sector despite the strong components available.
“The continuing ‘emigration of investments’ prompted governments to conduct surveys on the strengths of the tourism sector, as well as the obstacles facing investments in it in the region,” said Al-Nabhani, explaining that the trend by Gulf businessmen to invest abroad was the result of these obstacles and the changes in the political environment.
Nasser bin Aqeel Al-Tayyar, president of Al-Tayyar Travel Group, told Arab News that the general economic situation in Middle East has encouraged the investors, especially Saudis, to look for more tourism investments in Europe.
The economic situation, as well as the unstable political conditions in the Middle East are pushing many tourism investors to invest in the Far East or Europe, said Al-Tayyar.
He criticized the development of tourism industry in Saudi Arabia and called for working out development plans to boost tourism.
“Saudi Arabia needs massive tourism projects, and these should target both religious and regular tourists. There is a recent decrease in the number of tourists not only to the Kingdom, but also to the Middle East as a whole. All countries get influenced negatively. The Kingdom still enjoy stable politics and economy, so it is necessary to boost the tourism sector,” he said.
The GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry Union will organize an expo in Muscat next month to attract Gulf investors to the tourism sector.
The conference will address a number of issues with the participation of experts and investors. It will also showcase investment projects and opportunities in Oman, and introduce experiences of the Saudi tourism sector as a promising sector in the Kingdom.
“These investment opportunities are based on studies conducted earlier, with land allocations available and ready for implementation,” said Al-Nabhani, pointing out that Kuwaiti and Qatari companies are vying to grab these opportunities.
Gulf entrepreneurs and companies will embark on the implementation process of individual initiatives very soon. “Unfortunately, Saudi businesses have been absent in the competition so far, but still have the chance if they choose to endeavor,” he said.
The General Secretariat of GCC countries is tracking down movements of Gulf tourism investments aboard in some Asian countries to develop a database and statistics on volumes of capital investments in those countries. He said that Saudi investments are present in the tourism sector in East Asia.
Meanwhile, tourism is on the decline in Bahrain as a result of recent events there. The same is true for Kuwait. “This has prompted many Kuwaiti investors to invest abroad,” said Al-Nabhani.
“Such capitals and investments operating abroad represent a depletion of local funds and resources,” said the head of the committee, adding: “The issue requires the GCC states to seek outside investors as an alternative.”
Investments are open to all Arab and international companies, with priority accorded to Gulf investors, he added.
Al-Nabhani said that Saudi Arabia focuses on religious tourism. “But it is moving on to develop other locations for tourism, summer resorts in particular.”
All Gulf countries possess tourism components and capabilities, but they are treading shyly on this path for religious and traditional considerations. Only Dubai managed to exit the system of Arab and GCC countries and rank first as a global tourist destination, Al-Nabhani pointed out.
He said that the obstacles that the tourism industry faces would be discussed during the conference. Some of these involve the reluctance of Gulf youth to work in the tourism sector for social reasons, and the lack of a joint new GCC strategy in this regard.