In recent years, the Middle East has experienced significant tourism growth, fueled by ambitious visions and objectives which have contributed to rising awareness regarding the importance of sustainable practices within the tourism sector in order to guarantee the long-term viability of the industry and the achievement of many destinations’ goals.
While earlier efforts primarily focused on environmental sustainability, a new era of sustainable travel has emerged, with the Middle East embracing a holistic approach that encompasses social, economic and environmental perspectives. These groundbreaking efforts are shaping the future of travel in the region.
The Middle East’s commitment to social sustainability is evident in the growing number of initiatives designed to empower local communities and preserve cultural heritage. Saudi Arabia recently announced its partnership with UNWTO, focusing on the creation of training and quality certification programs in the kingdom. In addition, tourism organizations are working closely with local communities to involve them in the planning, development and management of tourism projects, such as the Hammayah program in AlUla. These collaborative efforts are not only creating job opportunities but also promoting cultural exchange between visitors and residents, ensuring an authentic experience for tourists while preserving traditional ways of life.
Furthermore, tourism stakeholders are investing in the preservation and restoration of historical sites. Collaboration between destinations and specialized agencies facilitate the preservation, management and promotion of the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the area.
Late last year, UNESCO added 11 new Arab customs, traditions, skills and events to its list of intangible heritage, such as Oman’s khanjar, Saudi Arabia’s Khawlani coffee culture and Jordan’s national al mansaf dish, to name a few. Jeddah Al Balad, AlUla and Diriyah are at the forefront of other heritage conservation efforts, leading innovations in archeological preservation and protection.
Economic sustainability is also at the forefront of the Middle East’s sustainable tourism efforts, with initiatives supporting local entrepreneurs and diversifying tourism offerings. An example of this is the agreement signed last September by the Tourism Development Fund (TDF) and the Saudi Endeavor Network (SEN) to support and boost the opportunities for tourism entrepreneurs in KSA. This will enable entrepreneurs to benefit from the assistance, financing and investment resources and services provided by both parties. Encouraging local entrepreneurship is essential, as it helps create unique experiences for tourists while contributing to the country’s economic growth. Last month, Ahlibank launched in the Souq initiative in Oman to support SMEs, in line with the country’s 2040 Vision. Governments and organizations are investing in various tourism niches, such as adventure tourism, ecotourism and cultural tourism, to broaden the appeal of the region to different types of travelers and spread the economic benefits of tourism more evenly.
A growing focus on environmental sustainability is driving the Middle East to implement certain measures that will reduce the tourism sector’s carbon footprint and resource consumption and protect biodiversity. Earlier this year, the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and the Oman Environment Authority signed a memorandum of understanding to promote sustainable development and enhance cooperation. Saudi launched the Saudi Green Initiative, which aims to offset and reduce carbon emissions, increase the use of clean energy and address climate change. As for the Saudi Royal Reserves program, it aims to protect and restore 12 percent of the landmass, while Red Sea Global and its regenerative tourism are setting new standards at an international level. Efforts to rehabilitate and repopulate the region’s coral reefs also demonstrate the Middle East’s commitment to preserving its natural resources for future generations.
The Middle East is making significant strides towards sustainable tourism, recognizing its importance in preserving the region’s unique cultural, historical and environmental treasures. By adopting an integrated approach that encompasses social, economic and environmental sustainability, the region is setting a new standard for sustainable tourism that will shape the future of tourism worldwide.
Colliers’ associate manager of Tourism Advisory Lead Hospitality & Tourism
in the Middle East and North Africa