TOURISM IN GCC 14
Research has indicated that the tourism industry is one ofthe fastest growing industries across the world. Many countriesacross the world including those in Africa and Asia are shiftingtheir focus of economic growth from other sectors such as agricultureand manufacturing to tourism. States are finding new ways avenues ofpromoting tourism as both an economic activity, as well as a socialactivity. The GCC or the Gulf Cooperation Council countries have alsonot been left behind, and there have been numerous efforts in thelast two decades driven towards improving tourism. The countries thatconstitute the GCC are Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain andUnited Arab Emirates (United States, 2014). It is essential to notethat the region has largely been dependent on oil, but thefluctuating oil prices have forced the region to exploit othereconomic generating avenues such as tourism. Tourism has been knownworldwide to produce employment opportunities, earn foreign currencyto a country, revive national pride of a country, bring revenue andlead to improvement of infrastructure.
Despite the numerous benefits that are associated with tourismacross the GCC, it is critical to state that the rapid growth oftourism has had adverse effects on the social-cultural aspect and theenvironment of the region. The GCC countries pursued the tourismindustry without the due consideration of what effects it would havein the region beside the monetary benefits. It is essential toanalyze the tourism sector in the region concerning both the monetaryand non-monetary benefits. It is also imperative to delve into thenegative social, and environmental effects of tourism in GCC sincetourism is an industry that largely depends on natural resources.This is an element of tourism that collides with the values of manyGCC states.
This paper will address the various aspects of tourism in theGCC member states and how the region can use different strategies toenhance tourism. The region has enjoyed a considerable number ofvisitors in the last decade, and the number continues to rise. Keyamong the attraction elements is the shopping malls, sand beaches,and various festivals, as well as museums. The member states arestarting to realize the need to diversify into other areas of revenuegeneration after a long period of reducing oil prices. Marketing theregion would put it on the world map and would enhance the tourismindustry. Additionally, it is critical for the region to enhance itsmedical services, improve the quality of education and improve sportsto attract travelers who are seeking medical, education and leisuretimes (Eagles, McCool, Haynes, IUCN World Commission on ProtectedAreas., IUCN–The World Conservation Union., World TourismOrganization., & United Nations Environment Program, 2013). Theregion still lags behind in terms tourism and UAE, which is theleading destination in the region is ranked 28th amongst 140countries. This implies that there is a lot that needs to be doneregarding marketing the region and enlightening the locals relatingto the value of tourism.
Qualitative and quantitative analysis of tourism in GCC
runs throughout the year, and it has been having anupward growth in the last few years. The beautiful sand beaches,archeological sites and nature tourism sustains the year out tourismindustry. Additionally, during the Hajj season, the GCC regionexperiences and receives numerous tourists of the Muslim religionfrom across the world. There are various shopping malls across theregion that are suitable for the visiting people from other parts ofthe world. The number of tourists in the region continues to growevery year, and 2014 recorded a 4% growth in the number of visitorsto the area. The GCC region has a 4.5% share of all the visitorsacross the world, and this has been considered as a highly highnumber considering it is only five small states. The area has a visaopenness of 18 which is attractive to numerous visitors. It iscritical to note that the region has an established e-visaapplication platform that encourages and attracts many visitors(Eagles et al 2013). The 3-7 days e-visa that was introduced byBahrain has been instrumental in the tourism industry of the region.The e-visa allows the visitors to travel across the GCC states for upto seven days using the e-visa if they got to the region throughBahrain International Airport.
In the year 2014, analysts have stated that the tourism sector inGCC region accounted for 5.7% of the total GDP. This is a clearindication that the sector is indeed having a significantcontribution towards the economy of the region. Within the GCCstates, the United Arab Emirates leads with the highest number oftourists and it is also ranked 28th among 140 countries in the worldon tourism. It is essential to note that the state is strategicallyplaced, and it connects the west to the east hence numerous peoplepass through the country. UAE has also embarked on marketing andcampaigning for its tourist attraction sites and the leisure culturalbase. The country has managed to attract both business travelers andvisitors seeking relaxation. The liberal visa regime and theattractive business policies for foreign investors continue to placethe country at the leading line in the tourism sector (Tourismeconomics: The business and finance of tourism and recreation, 2014).Additionally, the numerous international trade fairs and exhibitions,as well as industries have been instrumental in attracting visitorsfrom across the world. In the year 2014, tourism in UAE contributed8.1% of the total GDP, which almost twice the average of the entireregion. This percentage is expected to rise to over 9% by the year2020.
Based on the travel and tourism competitive index, Qatar is placedsecond in the region and it also the 41st among the 140 countriesacross the world. Qatar has discovered in the recent past the tourismis one of the pillars of its economy, and it has been using thetechnique of infrastructural development as a means of attractingmore tourists. The good environment and the excellent air transportin Qatar have ensured that it attracts numerous tourists throughoutthe year. The Museum of Islamic Art and the cultural village havebeen some of the visitors’ attraction sites for decades. From 2011to 2014, Qatar’s number of visitors has increased from 2 million toover 2.8 million. This is a clear indication that the country isindeed investing heavily in the sector after realizing its economicbenefits. Attraction sites in Qatar include but are not limited toSouq Waqif, The Pearl-Qatar, Villagio shopping mall and QatarNational Museum.
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain appear to be struggling in the tourismsector in the region. Bahrain is finding it difficult to keep up withthe changes in technology and infrastructural development that arevital components of tourism (Das, G. D., Nabli, M. K., & WorldBank, 2014). The natural resources in Bahrain are dwindling, and thecountry has failed to sustain the environment. Although Bahrain isranked 4th in the region and 55th worldwide, it is evident that thecountry is struggling with attracting and handling its travelers(Mackenzie, Sheldrick, Silver & Canadian Centre for PolicyAlternatives– Manitoba, 2014). The local communities in the countryhave not been enlightened on their role of improving the culturalheritage as a means of attracting tourists. Saudi Arabia enjoys over2 million tourists annually due to the various festivals such asJeddah Summer Festival. The country has sufficient travelers’hotels that are booked throughout the year, but their bookings go upduring such festivals.
The GCC region has largely depended on shopping malls, festival, andsports, as well as natural tourism in the past. The numerous worldclass shopping malls in UAE and Saudi Arabia have been instrumentalin the tourism sector. Additionally, the regions, especially thestate of Saudi Arabia has largely been dependent on religioustravelers who visit Mecca every year. The tourism sector in theregion has been a partnership between the private and the publicsector. The private sector has been tasked with the responsibility ofbuilding the hotels and the shopping malls while the governments ofthe GCC states provide the infrastructure regarding roads and airtransport (World Tourism Organization & Seminar of the WTORegional Commission for the Middle East, 2013). The governments havealso embarked on providing cheap labor, as well as providing cheaploans for the private sector to construct the shopping malls. Leisurehas also been in the forefront of tourism in GCC region with sandbeaches and entertainment centers such as the one in Qatar. Tourismin the area has targeted people from all age groups. This includesfamilies and even teenagers.
Context of low oil prices in GCC
The major reason as to why the GCC states came together was toimprove their economies. The area relies solely on gas and oil as itssource of revenue. The five GCC states are all monarchies, and theyhave had stable economies due to the vast oil reserves that they havehad (Daher, 2012). Notable is the fact these are natural resources,and they are bound to be depleted at one time. The GCC states areaware of the fact and, therefore, they have decided to diversify andengage in other economic activities such as tourism. Due to theeffects that oil products are having on the environment, countriesacross the world are resorting to alternative sources of energy suchas the wind, nuclear and solar energy (Mackenzie et al., 2014). Thesealternative sources of energy are being considered cheap and cleancompared to oil. This has led to sharp decline in the oil priceshence affecting the economies of the GCC countries. Despite theabundance of oil and gas resources in GCC nations, the regionsuffered the economic shocks of 2008. This was a clear indicationthat the countries would not rely solely on oil and gas as theirsources of revenue (Ayalon, 2010).
It is also evident that other countries in the world continue todiscover oil especially in the Horn of Africa. Vast oil resourceshave been discovered in countries such south Sudan and Kenya and thisasserts that the oil prices will further reduce. Currently, the oilprices continue to fall due to the alternative sources of energy(Carollo, 2012). Therefore, in order for the countries in the MiddleEast to sustain their economies, it is paramount for them to look foralternative sources of income. One area that the region has turned tois tourism. The GCC countries have turned to tourism and they havestarted to realize the economic and social benefits. It would beextremely dangerous for a region to rely on one avenue of incomegeneration such as the way GCC did for many years (Daher, 2012). Theregion’s population has been increasing significantly, and it wasbecome extremely difficult for the countries to provide employmentfor the youth. This necessitated the region to diversify regardinglooking for alternative employment creation activities.
Since 2014, the oil prices in GCC have dropped in prices by over70%. This wiped over 360 billion US dollars off the GCC states. Dueto this loss, the states had to cut on the expenditure anddevelopment projects such as infrastructural development (Dept, I. M.F. M. E. C. A., 2014). The states had to cut expenditure oneducation, subsidies, and public sector wages. Since some sectorssuch as health are critical, the countries had to look for othersources of income from tourism. The reduction in governmentexpenditures has affected the relationship between the citizens andthe government. This is especially due to the presence of a young andeducated population that has economic ambitions. Some of thecountries such as Saudi Arabia are considering raising the taxes as away of increasing revenue to fund the various projects (Khirfan,2014).
Strategies for promoting tourism in GCC
Although the tourism sector has been on the rise in the GCCregion for the past few years, there are some strategies that thestates can take to enhance and increase the number of travelers. Itis critical for the states to encourage local tourism and travelingamong the countries before attracting travelers from other countriesacross the world. With the reducing revenue from oil and gas, it ishigh time that these states venture deeply into tourism as a way ofearning income (Khirfan, 2014). Additionally, the ever increasingpopulation in the region requires that the governments look foralternative income sources to provide the essential services such aseducation and health. Nationals from other countries are migratinginto the region, and this continues to increase the population everyyear.
One strategy that the region can use to enhance tourism andattract travelers from other countries is through investing ineducation. It is evident that there are millions of young people whomigrate to the United States and the United Kingdom in search ofprestigious and quality education. Universities such as Oxford andHarvard attract numerous people across the world. If the memberstates in the GCC region would invest in education and build some ofthe best and prestigious universities and colleges, they would be ina position to attract millions of scholars from across the world(Organisation mondiale du tourisme, 2013). It is prudent for nationssuch as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to enter intopartnerships with major world universities. These partnerships willensure that these leading universities open branches in thesecountries. This will make sure that the countries can receivenumerous travelers who are seeking education opportunities. It isvital to note that some of these leading universities are normallyfilled, and many students from foreign countries lack or miss chancesto join them universities. A few branches in the region will attractnumerous students, and this will be a great source of income for theregion. Another aspect that is related to this is promotingmedication tourism. This implies that the member states of GCC shouldimprove their medical services and put the region on the world map toattract people seeking medical attention.
Another strategy that the region can employ to enhancetourism is building more shopping malls and having numerous shoppingand cultural festivals. It is evident that Dubai attracts numerouspeople from across the world due to the expansive shopping malls.Wealthy families from Africa, Asia, American, and Britain travel toDubai to shop for clothes and ornaments. This is a clear indicationthat if the region had more such shopping malls, there would be manytravelers who would visit (Organisation mondiale du tourisme, 2013).It is essential to note that the same travelers would have anopportunity to visit other parts of the region such as the beachesand museums, and this would encourage them to return to the region.It is also important to establish and develop entertainment districtsin the region such as the one in Qatar. This will attract manytravelers from across the world since music festivals could be heldthere. The population of the young people is increasing every day,and this is a clear indication that the entertainment industry isgrowing year in year out. It is, therefore, prudent for the GCCmember states to market the region as a destination forentertainment.
GCC is a region that has numerous tourist destinations, butthey have not been marketed well across the world. This implies thatif the countries can engage in numerous campaigns and marketingtechniques, they will manage to attract as many travelers aspossible. It is vital for the governments of the region to engage ininternational marketing where they can market their cultural heritagesuch as foods and music (World Tourism Organization, 2015). This willput the region on the world map with numerous people opting to visitthe region. It is critical to engage in online marketing and toutilize the social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter tomarket the region. This will ensure that the potential tourists whoenjoy sand beaches, shopping festivals and museums have analternative place to visit (Hazbun, 2014). Additionally,participating in online marketing will ensure that the potentialtravelers can communicate and engage with the tourism industryofficials and get clarifications easily regarding the places theywould love to visit.
It is critical for governments of countries such as SaudiArabia and UAE, as well as Qatar to ease their visa issuance process.Numerous potential visitors are put off by the complex visaapplication process. Streamlining this process will ensure that thereare numerous people who come to the region for various purposes suchas education, medication, and leisure. For instance, the temporary3-7 day visa that is offered to visitors who come in through theBahrain international airport is an excellent idea. This is a greatencouragement to both regional and international visitors who willhave an easy time moving from one country to the other. It isimportant to have temporary visas for foreign tourists that willenable them to make progress around the five states freely (UnitedStates, 2014). Improvement of infrastructure in the region will be asignificant step towards enhancing the tourism sector. Some touristsvisit Dubai, not for the festivals and the shopping malls, but tohave a view of the complex and the busiest airport in the world.Visitors will enjoy a smooth ride and easy movement across the citiesand across the countries in the region. Therefore, there is the needto improve the airports, road networks, and the railways for the sakeof the numerous tourists.
Another aspect that would enhance the industry in the regionis sports. Sports tourism is a highly potential form of travel acrossthe world, and it is critical for the GCC member states to encouragevisitors to engage in sports. For instance, beach football is one ofthe games that can be held in the region. GCC countries must marketthe area as a sports destination. It is critical to state that Qatarhas been selected to host the 2022 FIFA world cup, and this will be agreat opportunity for the country and the region to showcase thenumerous attraction sites. Qatar and other member states must usethis opportunity to advertise other sites, festivals and shoppingmalls that visitors can visit. Additionally, it is prudent for theregion to showcase their cultural heritage during the sports event asthis will attract future visitors.
It is clear that GCC is one region that has high tourismpotential, and the states must be in a position market the areaextensively. It is also evident that the area has various attractionelements that travelers are willing to go view. The sand beaches,natural environment, and infrastructure are some of the best thingspeople go to see. The region has resorted to other revenue generatingactivities after the oil prices went down drastically with over 70%reduction in costs (World Tourism Organization, 2015). The populationof the area continues to rise, and therefore the governments need toprovide essential services such as health and education to thepeople. Adding taxes for the locals will have a detrimental effect onthe relationship between the government and the people. Tourism seemsto generate the much-needed income for the region. There are somestrategies that the countries can employ to improve the tourism intheir area.
It is essential to enhance the education system in the areaand to invite major universities such as Harvard and Oxford to startbranches there. This will make sure that students from othercountries move to the GCC region for educational needs (UnitedStates, 2014). Improving the health services in the country wouldalso attract numerous people across the world. It is also criticalfor the GCC to engage in marketing especially on social media toreach numerous potential visitors.
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