The UAE’s tourism sector has leaped by nearly 10 times over the past four decades as a result of massive investments within an extensive drive to diversify the country’s oil-reliant economy, a well-known expert has said.
Mohammed Al Asumi, a former economic adviser at Dubai Executive Office, said diversification of the sources of income is a strategic issue for the UAE, the largest Arab economy after Saudi Arabia.
In an article published by the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ESCCR), he said the UAE, among the world’s 10 major oil powers, has used its immense hydrocarbon revenue to build an advanced infrastructure for the development of other productive and service sectors that help diversify sources of income.
“The country has become a first class tourist destination and is now attracting millions of tourists from all over the world every yea,” said Asumi, who had also served as chief of the economic section at the Emirates Industrial Bank.
“The success of the UAE’s tourism sector is evident from its contribution to the GDP, which has gone up from just one percent 40 years ago, when the Union was established, to about 10.4 percent at present.”
Asumi, author of several economy books, said tourism now stands alongside the most important non-oil economic sectors that for the UAE GDP.
H expected its contribution to GDP to rise further in the coming decades given the existence of an advanced infrastructure that allows the development of the sector on many levels.
“To begin with, the UAE’s network of hotels is unparalleled in the region in terms of quality and facilities provided. They attract major players in areas such as art, sport and culture and bring global events to the country,” he said.
“World class facilities are also available for family and entertainment tourism, especially at the various shopping malls, beaches and heritage sites which lend diversity to tourism and attract visitors from around the world.”
His figures showed a whopping 50 million tourists have visited Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), spending in excess of Dh88 billion since its inception about 14 years ago.
The number of tourists in Dubai reached 1.1 million last year alone while it exceeded two million throughout the UAE, he said.
“These numbers are significant considering the global financial crisis and particularly the turmoil in the Euro zone as tourists from Western Europe constitute a large proportion of visitors to the country,” Asumi said.
“Rising tourist numbers has also rejuvenated airports in the UAE. With arrivals growing at an annual rate of 10-12 percent, the number through the airport in Dubai last year touched nearly 50 million according to preliminary estimates. Arrivals at Abu Dhabi International Airport are also projected to exceed 10 million for the first time.”
Asumi also referred to the role of the UAE’s airlines in prompting tourism, including Emirates, Etihad Airways and Air Arabia.
He said their role has not only turned the country into a global center for transportation but has also made it attractive to tourists because of its easy accessibility from all parts of the world.
“This is an important feature that is not available in many tourist attractions around the world, especially in the Middle East,” he said.
“On the other hand, the remarkable interest the country has shown in the fast-growing exhibition industry, especially in Abu Dhabi, has made it a unique global hub for hosting and showcasing major international events related to economy, technology and culture.”
He noted that the government has launched many mega tourist projects that have enhanced the role of this sector in the national economy.
Projects such as Saadiyat Island, Yas Marina Formula One Circuit, the French Louvre Museum and others reflect the country’s interest in the development of this sector, he said.
“This important economic sector has several advantages over and above its contribution to the diversification of economy as there are other aspects related to it that are equally important,” he wrote.
“It is one of the most labor-intensive sectors and therefore provides significant job opportunities for UAE nationals….even though this very important feature has so far not fulfilled its potential considering the small number of citizens working in the tourism sector, the prospects of more and more nationals joining workforce in this sector look promising.”
According to Asumi, if the tourism sector continues at this pace for the next 10 years its share will swell to nearly 12.1 percent of GDP.
“This is a large proportion that matches important sectors such as processing industries and financial services and will help the UAE become one of the three largest tourist destinations in the Middle East.”
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