We must manage the impact of economic headwinds as tourism industry rebounds
This was the year when we saw international travel surge back around the world. Immigration lines were longer, baggage claim areas busier and trains packed as visitors made up for lost travel opportunities in the past few years.
As 2022 began, there were many reasons to be optimistic – the outlook for the industry looked positive, and the data supported that enthusiasm in the industry.
International tourism rebounded during the first seven months of the year as people left behind their fears and boarded planes and trains to visit destinations they had put off during the pandemic. It means that there is a lot to be excited about as we look ahead. And while I remain upbeat about the industry’s recovery, external events, such as inflation, geopolitical uncertainty and a global economic slowdown, do have the potential to threaten a recovery that had picked up considerable steam for the first seven months of this year.
But as the industry gears up to face these challenges, it is clear that there remains widespread optimism about the long-term opportunity for the sector around the world.
UN World Tourism Organization’s data showed that international tourism almost tripled annually during the first seven months of 2022. International tourist arrivals almost tripled in January-July 2022 compared to the same period of 2021. An estimated 207 million international arrivals were recorded in June and July 2022 combined, more than twice the numbers seen in the same two months last year. Destinations in Europe, the US and the Middle East have driven that increase. The Middle East saw tourism numbers surge almost 300 percent from the previous years, though they remained off their 2019 level. Saudi Arabia was the fastest-growing tourism destination in the G20, with exponential sector growth increasing 121 percent from pre-pandemic international tourism levels, according to the UNWTO.
The key to Saudi Arabia’s sector growth has been the introduction of the Kingdom’s e-visa in September 2019, with over 400,000 visas being issued to eligible residents from 49 countries in its first six months of operation. The total number of visas issued by August exceeded one million and those numbers continue to rapidly grow.
However, all of us in positions of responsibility for national tourism have to be realistic about the headwinds that the industry faces.
The war in Ukraine, rising inflation and interest rates, as well as fears of a deeper economic slowdown, pose a risk to the tourism industry’s rebound. With higher energy costs, including jet fuel, and the increased cost of air travel, means travelers could pay more for their tickets, which may deter people
from taking vacations.
Global economic growth is expected to slow to 3.2 percent in 2022 and then to 2.9 percent in 2023, down from 6.1 percent in 2021, according to the International Monetary Fund.
It demands that we remain nimble and flexible to circumvent geopolitical and economic impact for example and keep the industry on course for growth in 2022 and beyond. At this vital time for our industry, Saudi Arabia is proud to be hosting the 22nd Global Summit of the World Travel & Tourism Council in Riyadh with a theme we enthusiastically endorse – Travel for a Better Future.
The importance and significance of the challenges ahead mean that Riyadh will see the best attended WTTC summit to date. Over 2,000 delegates from 100 countries are now heading to Riyadh to innovate and collaborate on where our industry goes in the future.
The attendees, including the CEOs of the world’s six biggest, airports and senior government officials, will discuss how to succeed in the global ambition to add 126 million new jobs in the sector in the future. For many nations, the tourism industry underpins economic growth and it means the future of travel is fundamental for their prosperity and social development.
As the final preparations are made to welcome the who’s who of the global travel industry, I remain confident that our shared ambitions and commitment toward a brighter and more sustainable future will underpin this summit and help develop collaborative pathways to changing the future.
• Ahmed Al-Khateeb is Saudi minister of tourism.