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Why ‘over-tourism’ offers an opportunity for the GCC

Last year, there was a 29 percent increase in international tourist arrivals to the GCC compared to 2022 Dubai Tourism
Last year, there was a 29 percent increase in international tourist arrivals to the GCC compared with 2022; the number of hotel rooms in the region is likely to double to a million within six years
  • Number of hotel rooms will double
  • Affordability will fuel sector’s growth
  • International tourism up by 29%

The GCC region and its North African neighbour Egypt can reap the rewards of over-tourism across the globe, according to industry experts, with affordability playing a key role in fuelling the sector’s growth.

The number of hotel rooms in the six countries of the GCC – Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – and Egypt will almost double in the next six years to cross one million, says Turab Saleem, Knight Frank’s head of hospitality, tourism and leisure advisory for the region.

“I think with such a big population in the Middle East, having a million keys, it’s not a big deal,” he says.



Saleem believes the UAE and Saudi Arabia will both have about 300,000 rooms in total by 2030, with Egypt the third force in the region, followed by Qatar and the rest of the GCC countries.

In the UAE alone, there is still room for an additional 30,000 hospitality keys by the end of the decade, says Nicolas Nasra, head of hotel advisory, hospitality and tourism at Colliers in Mena.

He says there is confidence that these rooms will be filled, particularly with up-and-coming destinations such as Ras Al Khaimah complementing what is already on offer in the UAE.

Outside of the big cities and giga-projects in Saudi Arabia, there is strong development momentum gradually building up in Abha, Taif and Al-Ahsa, says Nasra. In the wider region of Aseer there are also three planned large-scale developments and more than 8,000 hospitality keys in the pipeline.

The data was released ahead of the four-day annual Arabian Travel Market, the region’s biggest travel and hospitality exhibition, which opens in Dubai on May 6.

Globally, countries are starting to fight back against over-tourism. In Europe, Venice has introduced a tourist tax to protect its ancient waterways, while mass protests have been held in recent months across Spain’s Canary Islands.

Japanese authorities are installing a large black barrier in Fujikawaguchiko to block the view of Mount Fuji from a popular photo spot.

“There is already quite a challenge in established tourist destinations. Do you go to London, Milan, Paris, Rome, Beijing, Singapore? They’re overcrowded during the season. You can’t even walk there,” says Saleem.

“Globally, you need more destinations. You need more places that can accommodate people.”

Nature, Outdoors, SceneryLiger Pham/Pexels
Measures are being taken to tackle over-tourism around the world: Japanese authorities are installing a large black barrier to block the view of Mount Fuji from a popular photo spot

Last year, the GCC witnessed a 29 percent increase in international tourist arrivals compared with 2022, lifting the region’s global share of international tourist arrivals to 5 percent, up from 3 percent just five years earlier, says Nasra.

Among the new openings planned for this year is the $3,431-a-night Ritz Carlton Reserve hotel on The Red Sea in Saudi Arabia, which is set to welcome guests later this month and has been billed as the most expensive hotel in the world.

Aman Dubai, announced in March, in Dubai’s Jumeirah 2 district, will become the most expensive hotel in the emirate when it opens in 2027. But although the luxury and ultra-luxury markets are well catered for, opportunities remain for more affordable options.

In the last year Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, which has 57 properties representing 11 brands in nine countries across the Middle East, expanded its midscale offerings in Saudi Arabia with a new hotel in Al Khobar, under the Ramada Encore by Wyndham brand.

You don’t become the fourth-largest destination in the world by only selling ultra-luxury; you have to go into the economy sector, too

Dimitris Manikis

Dimitris Manikis, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts EMEA president, says diversifying its tourism offering was central to Saudi Arabia achieving its ambitious target of welcoming 150 million tourists annually by 2030.

“Now is the time to get to the midscale and create an affordable luxury.”

Wyndham is planning to open a further 15 hotels in the region by the end of 2025.

Manikis points to Dubai as a perfect example of balancing luxury and affordability. “You’ve got the Burger Kings and then you’ve got the two-star Michelin restaurants,” he says.

He adds that Dubai is starting to find the balance between the two: “You don’t become the fourth-largest destination in the world by only selling ultra-luxury; you have to go into the midscale, you have to go into the economy sector, too.”

Accessories, Formal Wear, Tie
Dimitris Manikis says affordability will be key to growth

Haitham Mattar, managing director for India, Middle East and Africa at IHG Hotels & Resorts, insists that “sustainability must be central to everything”.

“This audience is environmentally conscious and look for hotels and products that prioritise sustainability, energy efficiency, waste reduction and eco-friendly initiatives – right through to recycled menu materials with plant-based options,” Mattar says.

The future of tourism will be a key topic of discussion at the four-day annual Arabian Travel Market, the region’s biggest travel and hospitality exhibition, which opened in Dubai on May 6.

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