UAE hospitality sector to set record recovery in 2021

Nicolas Mayer Global Tourism & Hospitality Center of Excellence Leader, PwC Middle East January 03, 2021

This interview first appeared on Khaleej Times.

Prior to the pandemic, the direct contribution of travel and tourism to the Middle East’s GDP was predicted by the World Travel and Tourism Council, to reach $133.6 billion by 2028

The UAE will be among some of the top destinations globally that will benefit the most from a swift upswing in their tourism industry in the new year, experts have said.

Nicolas Mayer, global industry leader for Tourism & Hospitality at PwC, said that the recovery of the tourism and hospitality industries will be dependent on how fast tourism destinations and tourism source markets rebuild trust in each other. “That trust would of course be strengthened by positive results in vaccination campaigns, but it also depends on the ability of national authorities to align with agility, and on the private sector to work together positively and transparently towards rebuilding trust in commercial relations.”

“I am encouraged to see that in the GCC region both the authorities and the private sector have been amongst the most agile and proactive globally, and that therefore our region should be amongst those destinations benefitting the fastest from the expected upswing,” he added.

However, Mayer noted that many of the important source markets of UAE tourism are in regions where the vaccine response is not as far progressed, such as Europe, and that therefore the UAE visitor numbers from these origin markets may continue to experience a lag in 2021. “There will probably be sporadic and regional setbacks, but luckily the UAE is to some extent naturally hedged from those, as it has one of the most diverse visitor origins globally.”

Recovery already on the cards

Tim Cordon, area senior vice president for the Middle East & Africa region at Radisson, said that the recovery speed of the hospitality industry and international travel will be determined by the Covid-19 vaccine, and will be different based on the countries and areas around the world.

“Until then we need to remain optimistic and positive, listen to our team, be flexible, and make quick decisions,” he said. “That said, we have been fortunate that many countries in Middle East have already started to see a recovery in the fourth quarter of 2020, be it from the domestic or international market.”

Recent research has shown that the UAE has been named as the most popular tourist destination for 2021. It topped the list of a study conducted by global travel company, Kuoni, who revealed that the country has emerged as ‘the world’s most searched destination for 2021’ for tourism, in 11 countries. In addition, new research conducted by Hilton in the UAE, revealed that UAE residents are already gearing up for a busy year of travel in 2021. More than 50 per cent of survey respondents, which included UAE Nationals, said that they are planning three or more holidays in 2021 if global travel advice allows, with the main reasons being missed holidays due to the pandemic and the desire to revisit treasured destinations with their families.

Prior to the pandemic, the direct contribution of travel and tourism to the Middle East’s GDP was predicted by the World Travel and Tourism Council, to reach $133.6 billion by 2028.

“Whilst the behaviour or priorities might have changed, people will want to reunite with their families and friends and for that to happen, we believe many will consider pursuing international travel once the circumstances allow so,” Cordon said. “Looking at the future of the travel and hospitality industry in general, I believe we will see much more technology, and it will be a key tool in the revival of our sector. Almost every aspect of the hospitality experience will have a digital component.”

Key trends to monitor

“I believe one of the positive effects of an otherwise very tragic 2020 situation is that citizens and residents across the world have discovered or rediscovered their own home country as a tourist destination,” said Nicolas Mayer. “This has happened globally, and in the GCC this development was particularly strong in UAE and KSA. Tourism providers have done an excellent job at creating new offers, targeted towards local resident visitors, and I believe that staycations will remain an important, larger segment of overall tourism, even once the situation goes back to a totally normal one.”

Similarly, Tim Cordon revealed that, over the past few months, many residents have been opting for mini getaways and staycations, preferring to stay within their country, due to international travel restrictions. Google searches related to staycations in the Middle East and North Africa have risen more than 400 per cent since March.

“This shows us how much the consumers’ attitude towards travel has altered. We believe this trend is expected to further strengthen in the coming months,” he said. “We can already see that the unique selling points of a hotel no longer focus solely on location – it focuses on the flexibility the guest has in terms of bookings and cancelations, the type of experience the guest will receive when staying at the hotel and of course their safety.”

One type of international visitor arrivals that may still not recover substantially in 2021 is business travel, Mayer pointed out. “Currently, the hurdles to business travel are often still quite cumbersome, either in the destination, or more often, upon return to the home country, in the form of extended quarantines or testing regimes. Many companies are also looking at sources of savings, and business travel expenses is one area where many global players have decided to realise some of these savings. We may see in the long run that some types of business travel never recover to pre-covid levels.”

“We will however see a sustained increase of long term visits, from visitors that chose a certain region as a temporary home from where to work and play,” he added. “They will choose locations in which they trust, and where they believe that they will be able to experience the most optimal mix of professional opportunities and leisure offerings. The new remote worker visa options offered in Dubai will accelerate that trend, and we will see significant growth in the “workation” segment. Lastly, we will of course see a gradual and accelerating return of more classical patterns of tourism, with individual tourism arrivals recovering first, and MICE tourism perhaps lagging a little longer.”


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Nicolas Mayer

Nicolas Mayer

Global Tourism & Hospitality Center of Excellence Leader, PwC Middle East

Tel: +971 4 304 3100

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