JEDDAH — With traditional Western European destinations facing tough economic challenges which could cause tourism receipts to decline, the relevance of the GCC markets becomes even more relevant for Saudi travelers.
Key GCC industry players are keen on capitalizing on the new outbound Saudi travel trend.
There has been a demonstrated preference for luxury beach resorts, entertainment and family holidays in the Gulf.
Emirates 24/7 reported that the GCC chambers of commerce and industry revealed Dubai has been in the forefront of regional efforts to develop its tourism sector and this has turned it into a major destination for tourists from the Gulf and other countries.
Although Saudi Arabia possesses tourism potential, most of their citizens still travel abroad for holidays, pumping out millions every year.
Many families told Saudi Gazette that underdeveloped domestic tourism and lack of entertainment activities for families is a major factor for them preferring outbound tourism.
But most families prefer to travel more often during short breaks and hence prefer close destinations within the Gulf boosting GCC tourism.
Saudi five-star holidaymakers are a growing statistic in neighboring countries such as UAE, Turkey Morocco, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait.
Growth in exhibitors from Turkey, Morocco and Egypt as industry looks to expand GCC tourism receipts to offset potential declines from austerity-hit Eurozone.
The ongoing effects of the Eurozone crisis has prompted popular Mediterranean destinations to target growth opportunities in the GCC markets at Arabian Travel Market (ATM) which reports a sell-out show ahead of next month’s 20th anniversary event.
“Exhibitors demand from countries on the Mediterranean coast, have been particularly strong this year as the tourism industries in Turkey, Morocco and Egypt turn their attention to the outbound GCC market,” said Mark Walsh, Portfolio Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions.
He added that GCC travelers with their high disposable income levels are the key target market for Mediterranean destinations. “But with traditional Western European source markets facing tough economic challenges, which could cause tourism receipts to decline, the relevance of the GCC markets becomes even more pronounced,” he added.
John Pelling, the General Manager of The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, said outbound Saudi national tourists are not only the largest number of GCC tourism industry travelers, they may also be 'among the best.'
"We've always known that Saudi Arabia, with its youthful population in excess of 28 million, is the GCC's top feeder market. Now, we believe they are among our key markets. This is based on a few key data points: the average size of their travel party, length of stay and incremental spend," said Pelling.
He added: "We used to see a Saudi Arabian preference for city breaks in the Gulf. Now staying near the beach in large family parties is proving to be very popular. They want well-appointed accommodation, world-class dining, but also beach and pool access and activities for children that ensure absolute privacy and relaxation."
According to the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism office in Dubai, the number of tourists traveling to Turkey from the GCC region has increased significantly in the past few years, with over 370 percent growth from the UAE, 331 percent for Kuwait and almost 600 percent from Qatar in 2012.
With direct routes to Spain, Italy, France, Cyprus, Greece and Tunisia, the region’s airlines are also making the Mediterranean resorts more accessible. Sharjah registered its strong presence at the MITT (Moscow International Tourism Business Summit) exhibition this March. Abu Dhabi's tourism industry is planning a weeklong promotion of the destination and its expanding offering in Saudi Arabia later this month.
They are also heading for Sao Paolo for the inaugural World Travel Market Latin America. Etihad Airways will launch non-stop flights from Brazil's second largest city to Abu Dhabi International Airport in June.
International luxury hotels also invite tourists from Europe and the West to indulge in Middle Eastern luxury. Recently, Kempinski Hotels held their annual Middle East Roadshow in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar.
They showcased a selection of its luxury hotels from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe to the leading tourism operators in Kuwait.
Kuwait remains a key market for Kempinski Hotels as Kuwaiti guests spent hundreds of thousands of dinars in 2012 in destinations around the world — at Ciragan Palace Kempinski in Istanbul, at Hotel Vier Jaherszeiten Kempinski Munich, and at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi.
Kempinski Hotels opened its first hotel in the Middle East in 1998 and has since opened nine luxurious properties strategically located across the region in countries including UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, and Bahrain, with seven more hotels opening in the next 2 years. They plan to expand its presence in the Middle East, with luxurious properties opening in Al Khobar and Riyadh in 2014, Jeddah and Oman in 2015.
Saudi Arabia's tourism market was one of the world's fastest growing in 2012 mostly due to Umrah and Haj pilgrims. According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, the Kingdom saw a 14 percent growth in tourism last year, the fifth best performer globally.
The rest of the GCC market relies heavily on creating more business hubs, entertainment and sports venues among other luring opportunities for tourists.
Man made islands in Dubai or Manama in Bahrain are a few examples other than luxury resorts, sport events, concerts, film festivals and art exhibitions that attract tourists to the rapidly developing economy of GCC countries.