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September 28, 2023 10:22 AM IST

Middle East overtakes North America in tourism investments: World Tourism Day 2023 highlights green investments

middle east | north america | World Tourism Day | tourism investments | Tourism

On World Tourism Day 2023, leaders from every global region have united around a shared determination to invest in the sector’s growth and transformation. Held around the theme of “Tourism and Green Investments,” the celebrations of the Global Day of Observation have been the biggest and most impactful on record.

Hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the official celebrations in Riyadh brought together more than 50 Ministers of Tourism alongside hundreds of high-level delegates from both the public and private sectors. They were joined by UNWTO’s Member States and other tourism stakeholders around the world celebrating in their own countries. Welcoming them all, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili and Minister of Tourism for Saudi Arabia Ahmed Al Khateeb, emphasized the need for the whole of the sector to step up investments that deliver for People, Planet, and Prosperity.

In his speech, Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of UNWTO, began by acknowledging the significance of World Tourism Day and welcomed the diverse audience, including over 45 ministers, 100 delegations, and 500 representatives from around the world, emphasizing the importance of tourism and green investments for sustainable development.

The Secretary-General emphasized the strong partnership between UNWTO and Saudi Arabia, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. He mentioned the rapid construction of UNWTO’s Middle East regional office and the historic visit of Her Royal Highness Princess Haifa.Pololikashvili concluded by commending the resilience of the tourism sector during the pandemic, with efforts to promote tourism and sustain growth. He emphasized the importance of cooperation and friendship among the attendees and their collective commitment to the tourism industry’s future.

In her speech, Natalia Bayona, UNWTO Executive Director, discussed the state of global investments and their impact on the tourism sector. She began by discussing the overall global investment trends, pointing out that before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were fluctuations in global investments across various sectors. In 2021, foreign direct investments (FDI) grew by 54%, reaching $1.6 trillion. However, in 2022, FDI declined by 12% to $1.3 trillion due to geopolitical instability, particularly the conflict in Ukraine. She emphasized that instability and lack of security can deter investments in all economic sectors.

Bayona highlighted the significance of the service sector in global investments. She noted that 70% of developing countries contribute to global FDI, and the value of announced Greenfield projects in the service sector increased by 68%. Tourism, being part of the service sector, plays a crucial role in the overall economy.

The United States ranked as the top investor, followed by China, Japan, Germany, the UK, Canada, Sweden, and Australia. She emphasized that while developed and mature countries are major investors, 70% of global FDI flows to developing countries.. Bayona shared data indicating that there were 2,400 announced tourism projects with a total investment of $175 billion. However, she expressed concern that 66% of tourism investments were directed toward hotels. She stressed the need to diversify investments to support various sub sectors within the tourism industry. Bayona highlighted the positive impact of tourism investments on job creation. She mentioned that almost 400,000 jobs were generated thanks to tourism investments, emphasizing the importance of the sector in employment opportunities.

Discussing regional investment patterns in tourism, Europe emerged as the leading region with 1,000 projects and $51 billion invested. Notably, the Middle East surpassed North America in tourism investments, with $12 billion compared to North America’s $10 billion. Latin America and the Caribbean also outpaced North America, attracting $27 billion in tourism investments.

Bayona pointed out that Africa faced the challenge of promoting and sustaining growth in tourism investments, with $7.7 billion invested in the continent. Natalia Bayona’s speech emphasized the importance of diversifying tourism investments beyond hotels, the role of tourism in job creation, and the changing dynamics of global tourism investments among different regions. World Tourism Day 2023 celebrated not just the resilience of the tourism sector but also its potential to drive sustainable and green investments worldwide.

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