Outbound tourism is when an individual travels outside his native country, either for vacation or business trip. Outbound tourism impacts the economy of a country owing to tourist spends; this brings in additional revenue to the country being visited. The Gulf Cooperation Council is an international organisation comprising economic and political alliance of six major Middle Eastern countries – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Oman. The GCC countries are characterised by a fast growth in population year on year. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the GCC countries contribute almost 60 percent of the outbound travel in the Middle East. There is a strong demand for outbound tourism in the GCC, except Bahrain, owing to the political stability and economic growth, according to the European Tourism Council (ETC). Almost 82 percent of outbound travels are particularly for leisure and 18 percent for business purposes.
“Travel for leisure” constitutes a major part of outbound travel in GCC countries. The leisure travel is influenced by free independent travellers, honeymooners, youth and family travellers. Tourists travel for visiting friends and relatives (VFR). The frequency of leisure travel and travel for visiting friends and relatives is increasing, which is driving more outbound arrivals. The outbound arrivals owing to business are also showing good footfall owing to opportunities with respect to upcoming industries and businesses. International business engagements have increased, thereby propagating more business opportunities. The length of stay is also longer, which contributes to increased expenditure by tourists. The luxury goods sector has a dominance in the GCC countries. The shopping tendency of tourists has increased as they spend on luxury goods and items. This has increased the inflow of money. In a way, smart phones and the internet also contribute to the increased outbound footfall. It has allowed the common man to book tickets and hotel reservations and plan the entire tour with ease. Not only tourists but even hotels can manage the crowd easily making it very convenient for the tourists. This has increased tourist satisfaction levels, which has in turn boosted the growth of outbound tourism in the GCC countries. Moreover, good facilities for tourists, good shopping opportunities, image of the destination (Dubai is well-known for the Burj Khalifa, a famous tourist attraction), culture and good exploration opportunities could also be considered as incremental factors impacting the GCC outbound tourism sector.
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Outbound tourism statistics are impacted by the arrivals, overnight stays and the length of stay in the region. According to the European Tourism Council (ETC), in 2009 Saudi Arabia ranked 1st with 6 million arrivals with respect to outbound tourism followed by the UAE that recorded five million outbound arrivals. In 2010 Saudi Arabia again topped the list in the GCC community with a record of seven million outbound arrivals. Destinations outside the Middle East are in Europe, Asia and rest of the world. In Europe, GCC tourists prefer United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. As far as Asia is concerned, Malaysia and Thailand are famous for their tourist footfalls. Island regions such as Maldives and Mauritius are also experiencing an increased flow of GCC tourists. Australia is also one of the emerging tourist attractions. According to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), the Middle East outbound travel will reach £15 Billion by 2020. The most significant areas of growth are likely to be UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Lebanon. The WTO states that GCC alone will represent above 60 percent of the outbound tourism sector. There is great growth potential for the outbound tourism sector in the GCC countries. Factors such as growing population, rising middle class income and higher spending makes GCC a lucrative region for outbound tourism.
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