RIYADH: The travel industry, which was worth $9.6 trillion before the COVID-19 pandemic, was cut in half during the pandemic. By next year, however, it is expected to climb to $10 trillion, a leading industry figure said.
Speaking to Arab News, Julia Simpson, president and CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said that the industry’s numbers in 2023 are showing positives signs already.
“While the global (gross domestic product) is looking to rise at 2.7 percent annually, travel and tourism will be growing at double that rate,” said Simpson, noting that the aviation industry has returned to normalcy in 2022 after the decline of COVID-19.
Business travel, however, will recover at a slower rate.
“It has already started coming back, but if you look at places like China that are still closed and Japan that has only recently opened, we will see that business travel will come back fully more like in 2024,” Simpson said.
Saudi Arabia’s massive investment in mega projects, including the $500 billion NEOM City and AlUla, would contribute to positioning the Kingdom as a major travel and tourism destination.
The Kingdom’s travel industry will witness significant growth and is projected to add $100 billion to the economy by 2032, as it continues to boost tourism investments, she said.
“All the investment that the Saudi government is making in developing what is a really beautiful country and opening up for travel and tourism is bearing fruit,” said Simpson on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh.
The Kingdom’s efforts are bringing the “immense amounts of cultural heritage in locations like AlUla” and “places in Saudi Arabia that are rich with history and biodiversity” to the forefront, noted Simpson.
The global aviation forecast looked similarly positive as travel rates are expected to see rapid growth in the next 10 years.
She denied reports of an expected global downturn in the aviation industry.
“Currently, we aren’t seeing (a decline) in any of the travel and tourism numbers. In fact, at the moment, the demand is outstripping supply, and also, we have very high employment levels. Sometimes they are so high that we find it hard to recruit people.”
She pointed to the emergence of new post-pandemic travel trends, which have been propelling the hospitality sector to grow and adjust to new models.
“We are seeing digital nomads, where people are combining home, work and travelling at the same time. So, you are seeing the classical division between holiday and workplace blurring slightly. That’s a whole new model, and a lot of hotels are adjusting to meet that new challenge,” she added.
The three-day FII gathered more than 6,000 participants – from policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs to young leaders – for discussions on topics ranging from geoeconomics to gaming.