GCC becomes a top tourist destination

28 March 2024

 

This report on hotel investment also includes: Region heads for hotel boom


The GCC’s pulling power as a tourist destination was reinforced in early March when Dubai-based developer Emaar announced that Dubai Mall was the most visited place on earth in 2023, with 105 million visitors – a jump of over 19% from the 88 million recorded in 2022.

The developer also revealed that the performance has continued into 2024, with 20 million people visiting the mall during the first two months of this year.

Dubai Mall’s performance is just one facet of Dubai’s resurgent tourism industry. After a difficult year in 2020, the emirate has bounced back as a tourism destination and is now welcoming more visitors than it did before the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In 2023, Dubai welcomed more tourists than ever before. There were 17.15 million international overnight visitors, according to data published by the emirate’s Department of Economy & Tourism. The total represents 19.4% growth when compared to the 14.36 million tourist arrivals recorded in 2022. 

The 2023 total also exceeded the previous record of 16.73 million visitors that was registered in 2019.

The performance has continued into 2024. Dubai welcomed 1.77 million international tourists in January 2024, an increase of 21% compared to the 1.47 million visitors recorded in the same period of 2023.

Dubai Mall was the most visited place on earth in 2023, with 105 million visitors

Saudi tourism growth

While full-year data for most other GCC markets has yet to be reported, one other GCC country that has recorded strong numbers for 2023 is Saudi Arabia. 

The kingdom welcomed more than 100 million tourists last year, achieving its 2030 goal seven years early. The 2023 total comprised 77 million domestic and 27 million international visitors, generating revenues of $27bn for the kingdom. 

Saudi tourism numbers cross 100 million

Riyadh wants more growth and aims to emulate Dubai by developing ambitious projects that are designed to be global attractions in the future. The target now is to increase tourist numbers to the kingdom to 150 million by the year 2030, with a split of 80 million domestic and 70 million international tourists.

Saudi Arabia welcomed more than 100 million tourists last year, achieving its 2030 goal seven years early

Regional travel

Digging deeper into the data for Dubai reveals an interesting trend. Western Europe ranked first in terms of source markets for international tourists with a share of over 18%, or 327,000 visitors. This was closely followed by the GCC countries with 311,000 visitors, representing nearly 18%.

Intra-GCC tourism has been identified by policy makers as a key driver for future growth in the region. The logic is simple: the six-country block is home to 60 million people with many wealthy frequent travellers. 

The importance of GCC travellers is evidenced by statistics from GlobalData, which show that Saudi Arabia was the largest source market for travellers visiting the six GCC states in 2023, with a total of 6.3 million travellers. 

Oman and Kuwait were also in the top 10, accounting for 2.3 million travellers each. 

The GCC is also promoting travel within the region by implementing a unified tourist visa for the six countries. The concept was discussed, along with the Gulf Tourism Strategy, at the eighth meeting of GCC tourism ministers in Doha earlier this year.

The GCC tourist visa is expected to significantly improve the Gulf states’ standing as a tourist destination by making travel within the region easier for visitors from outside. 

The visa, which is expected to operate in a  similar way to the EU’s Schengen Visa, will allow tourists to visit GCC countries on a single visa. 

The move to make travel within the region more frictionless should enhance the performance of the GCC’s tourism sector in the future.

 Region heads for hotel boom 

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Colin Foreman
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