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UAE and Saudi Arabia among the top 10 tourism destinations in 2023

The two Gulf countries along with Egypt have been listed in ForwardKeys’ top 10 tourism destinations.

UAE and Saudi Arabia among the top 10 tourism destinations in 2023
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have made the list of top 10 tourism destinations globally, signifying strong growth in international visitors compared to 2019, according to the Global Travel Trends report by ForwardKeys. Only the Middle East and North Africa region saw a record increase in the number of international tourists.

The number of international visitors to the UAE and Saudi Arabia has grown by 14% this year compared to 2019, according to ForwardKeys.

However, the Israel-Gaza war has bred an outlook of “cautious optimism” for tourism in 2023. The MENA region also sees Egypt ranked among the top destinations, ranked at number 10. The report outlined that there has been a continued recovery of the global tourism sector after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saudi Arabia is ranked fifth in international arrivals in 2023 due to the levels of Hajj pilgrims visiting the country, while many investments in tourism marketing were made to diversify the kingdom’s economy. 

The Dominican Republic, Columbia, Mexico, and Greece ranked in the top four before Saudi, categorized by in-demand “sun and beach” destinations. Meanwhile, the UAE ranked eighth on the list.

“Africa and the Middle East was the only region worldwide which is switching from recovery to growth in the fourth quarter,” Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at ForwardKeys, said at a press briefing on Friday at the World Travel and Tourism Council’s global summit in Rwanda.

The region’s international tourist arrivals year-to-date were 14% below pre-pandemic insights but are expected to increase by 2% in the fourth quarter, notes the report.

Ponti notes that the Israel-Gaza war has bred an outlook of “cautious optimism” for tourism in 2023, as well as the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

 “There is an impact over the last few weeks. We’ve started to see this with [travel] cancellations, not only to Israel but also to a number of neighboring destinations,” he says.

Ponti also shares that destinations like Egypt and Jordan were going strong, but now there comes a negative background tied to the war, resulting in booking cancellations. 

He mentions that this is not a first and that people typically forget about crises in due time and start to re-book their flights. However, he warns that “if the situation is prolonged, then the perception of tourists changes, and it’s seen as a region that’s not safe and that damage is much worse.”

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