Global destinations woo the gulf

Visit St Petersburg this year

Late last year, several destinations flew into Dubai to woo regional travellers: Visit Petersburg from Russia made its first ever stop in the GCC, South Africa finally made the eight-hour flight with several hospitality and DMC partners, Azerbaijan visited key partners with its new CEO, Singapore opted for an annual multi-city GCC roadshow, France launched a website to inspire Arabic speakers, and Ireland and Switzerland hosted lavish dinners, to name just a few initiatives.  

Per-capita international tourism spending from Gulf countries was 6.5 times higher than the global average last year, with expenditure estimated to be more than $60 billion, according to The GCC Outbound Travel Market, a report prepared by UNWTO and partners.

Year on year, destinations around the world are waking up to the importance of the high-spending Gulf travellers and looking for ways to attract them.



Neliswa Nkani, new hub head for Middle East, India and South East Asia for South African Tourism, says, “The Middle East has always been a key and instrumental inbound market for South Africa and, the UAE in particular, has had a long-standing relationship, with a lot of investment into the tourism sector, especially in hotels. We see some growth in terms of arrivals, particularly from the high-end segment.

“South Africa is investing and preparing for this market. We are getting more halal friendly, we have a fully-fledged halal camp, other hotels are offering halal options.” The South African roadshow, which travelled to Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Jeddah and Iran, came prepared with partners offering and willing to offer halal services to regional clientele.

“It is quite challenging at the moment, with travellers from some countries not knowing the difference between Africa and South Africa but we are committed to the region and we want to figure out what the region wants. We find the UAE particularly interesting because of its wide mix of nationalities.”



Meanwhile, Dubai-based Plan b Group has successfully bid to promote Russia’s most culturally rich city – St Petersburg – within the UAE as a choice destination for business and leisure.

Marina Morozova, head of the National Tourism Office of the Russian Federation in the Middle East, based in Dubai mentioned that while promoting a country as vast as Russia is not without its challenges, St Petersburg is a great starting point, as it is the most European city in Russia.

“The UAE is an important market for us and building positive bridges between our communities is a leading directive. Plan b’s track record of successful international and multi destination campaigns made them an obvious choice for Visit St Petersburg and we are confident that this association will result in visible results of our plans and projections,” said, Nana Gvichia, deputy head of Tourism Development of St. Petersburg.

Per-capita international tourism spending from Gulf countries was 6.5 times higher than the global average last year, with expenditure estimated to be more than $60 billion


She added that the presence of the Visit Petersburg office in Dubai will allow “not only to change the attitude to our country as a place of unique experience, but also to give an opportunity to attract foreign investments and to promote St. Petersburg on an international level”.

St. Petersburg is a great destination for short breaks from three to five days: the entire city is like a piece of art, says Nana. The focus is very much on building an impressive portfolio for sports tourism after the resounding success of Fifa World Cup for the city, which welcomed 8.2 million visitors in 2018.

She hinted at a possibility for an e-visa to materialise this year, but it is key to know that people arriving to St Petersburg by water – seaport, ferries and yachts – get a 72-hour free visa.



On the other hand, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) would like us to know that 50 per cent of the 80,000 odd visitors from the UAE to Singapore are Emiratis. This, and other interesting insights were presented at the Singapore Tourism Board roadshow that brought together DMCs and travel partners from the region in Dubai, Doha, Muscat and Kuwait in November last year.

The event drew more than 120 participants, was co-hosted by Emirates Airlines and Singapore Tourism Board and featured talks by STB summarising the island-nation’s freshly packaged travel products targeting Mice, explorers, passionate travellers and several other travel tribes.

STB regional director GB Srithar summarised three key takeaways for UAE travel trade. Firstly, Singapore’s new slogan, passion Made Possible captures the essence of its upgraded travel products designed around foodies, explorers, collectors, socialisers, culture shapers and action seekers. Secondly, with more than 15 per cent of its population being practising Muslims, the island was always a friendly destination for Muslim travellers, but now the focus is even higher on assuring guests of a comfortable stay. Finally, Singapore offers a strong value proposition for every wallet size, quality being the common denominator of all shapes and sizes of travel experiences, this cancels the perception of Singapore being an expensive destination.



From traditional naftalan (naphthalene) oil treatments, roadside attractions like burning water fountains and hot spring baths to paragliding and river rafting in Qabala and following the ancient Silk Route, Azerbaijan is redefining the way the world thinks of it, and it wants the Arab world to pay attention.

TTN had the chance to speak with Florian Sengstschmid, the CEO of Azerbaijan Tourism Board (ATB), to know more about the ‘new’ portrait of the country, and, most importantly, how it plans to double the current in-bound tourism figures by 2023.

The Caucasus country welcomed a record number of in-bound visitors spending more than $1.3 billion in 2017 and expects to have reached 2.7 million tourists in 2018. Azerbaijan’s online 30-day visa now covers 95 countries and is being expanded to include more. “Russia, Georgia, Iran, Turkey, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are some of our most important feeder markets this year and will play a key part in helping us achieve these numbers,” Sengstschmid tells TTN.

“Azerbaijan has nine out of 11 climate zones, making it possible for visitors to go skiing and kite surfing on the same day. We are just two hours from Kuwait and three hours from the UAE – a short-haul destination connected very well. Fly Dubai will intensify its connectivity with Azerbaijan later this year.”

Azerbaijan’s ancient Silk Route will be brought to the fore in the new communications about country, which is known as The Land of Fire, owing to its most famous export - petroleum. The CEO urges travel agents and tour operators to include points on the Silk Route in their clients’ itineraries. “The very old and scenic village of Basqal is home to the famous kelegayi silk headscarf. Next stop should be Lahic, which has an age-old tradition of copper arts and crafts. Finally, Shamakhi, popular for its carpets is also home to the oldest religious building in Azerbaijan, the Juma Mosque built in the 10th century. 

Last month, Azerbaijan Tourism Board opened its representative offices in several countries globally, partnering with Gulf Reps in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.



Finally, was launched in Arabic, with the country tipping its hat to Arabic speakers around the world. According to latest figures, tourism accounts for seven per cent of France’s gross domestic product, making it more important than the automotive sector in the country.

The country is witnessing a 4 to 5 per cent average growth from the Mena region, with 2.5 million tourists from the region visiting France last year. Specifically from Gulf countries, France received about 700,000 visitors, who stayed an average of 9.4 days in the country.

The last three years also saw Gulf visitors increasingly heading to Courchevel, Méribel and Val Thorens. ”