By Rhona Wells
The 23rd Arabian Travel Market (ATM) will be held at the Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre from 25-28 April. With greater global awareness about the importance of maintaining our environment for future generations, responsible tourism will be a prime focus of the event.
In its 22nd edition, ATM 2015 boasted more than 2,800 exhibitors from 86 countries and attracted over 26,000 visitors from around the world. ATM 2015 witnessed a year-on-year visitor attendance increase of 15% to over 26,000, with exhibiting companies increasing by 5% to 2,873. Business deals worth more than $2.5 billion were signed over the four days.
Global tourism outlook
International tourist arrivals grew by 4.4% in 2015 to reach a total of 1,184 million in 2015, according to the latest United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) World Tourism barometre. Some 50 million more tourists (overnight visitors) travelled to international destinations around the world last year as compared to 2014.
Meanwhile, 2015 marked the sixth consecutive year of above-average growth, with international arrivals increasing by 4% or more every year since the post-crisis year of 2010.
“International tourism reached new heights in 2015. The robust performance of the sector is contributing to economic growth and job creation in many parts of the world. It is thus critical for countries to promote policies that foster the continued growth of tourism, including travel facilitation, human resources development and sustainability” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.
Demand was strong overall, though with mixed results across individual destinations.
“2015 results were influenced by exchange rates, oil prices and natural and man-made crises in many parts of the world. As the current environment highlights in a particular manner the issues of safety and security, we should recall that tourism development greatly depends upon our collective capacity to promote safe, secure and seamless travel. In this respect, UNWTO urges governments to include tourism administrations in their national security planning, structures and procedures, not only to ensure that the sector’s exposure to threats is minimised but also to maximise the sector’s ability to support security and facilitation, as seamless and safe travel can and should go hand in hand”, added Rifai.
Results from the UNWTO Confidence Index remain largely positive for 2016, though probably at a slightly lower level, compared to the previous two years. Based on the current trend and this outlook, UNWTO projects international tourist arrivals will grow by 4% worldwide in 2016. The projection for the Middle East is growth of between +2% to +5%, though with a degree of uncertainty due to shifting levels of volatility in the region. International tourist arrivals in the Middle East in 2015 grew by an estimated 3% to reach a total of 54 million, consolidating the recovery initiated in 2014. However, over the same period, North African destinations recorded a decline of 8%.
Responsible tourism in focus at ATM 2016
Government legislation, along with the increased focus on the traveller footprint and the impact of natural disasters on numerous national economies put the spotlight on the importance of effective sustainable travel strategies.
In 2015, ATM welcomed over 50 exhibitors with a responsible tourism focus, and the number is set to grow this year. Exhibitors including The Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia, the Namibia Tourism Board, Gray Line and FHRI Hotels & Resorts will join other hotel groups, tour operators, airlines and industry sub-sectors to explore opportunities in responsible tourism.
According to industry commentators, responsible travel trends for 2016 include seeking out locally sourced food, traveller interest in the preservation of local culture and authentic experiences, ‘voluntourism’, pro-environmental hotel development and a significant focus on energy saving by operators as well as guests.
“More and more companies are re-evaluating their business model to incorporate responsible tourism products and programmes, and are using this as a tool to attract ethically and environmentally minded guests and clients as well as to support local government efforts or in response to legislated change,” said Nadege Noblet-Segers,
According to a 2014 Blue & Green Tomorrow’s consumer survey, 43% of respondents said they would be considering the ethical or environmental footprint of their primary holiday, with almost 10% partially considering this when planning their travel.
UAE headquartered TIME Hotels was one of the region’s early adopters of sustainable practices. The company was the first in the Middle East to launch a programme to offer guests the chance to offset the carbon emissions generated during their stay, back in 2014. This has since been rolled out to a number of its properties as well as attaining international hospitality sustainability certification. Other responsible initiatives include a Slow Food programme and development of a suite of environmentally friendly meeting packages.
“We are already seeing some great examples of best practice in the region especially when it comes to the environment, and with a number of exciting green building initiatives underway, there is a clear opportunity to raise global awareness of grassroots activity and secure additional business,“ said Noblet-Segers.
The UAE already has more than 5,000-square kilometres of protected natural areas with associated tourism opportunities. These include Dubai’s Ras Al Khor nature reserve, Fujairah’s Bird Island and Abu Dhabi’s extensive Desert Islands programme.
Experiential tourism is another area where the Middle East needs to get into the traveller mindset and create added value by developing exciting, forward-thinking responsible tourism programmes.
Sharjah’s new ecotourism project in Kalba, scheduled to open in 2017, is a good example of experiential tourism, and will include a turtle rehabilitation centre, visitor centre and bird of prey centre. This is just one of the exciting regional developments to be showcased at ATM 2016.