Under the auspices of His Excellency Eng. Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, Minister of Economy, the UAE Ministry of Economy successfully organized ‘The Tourism Innovation and Transformation Forum 2016’ in cooperation with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The forum, which was held today (Wednesday, November 23, 2016) at The Westin Dubai Al Habtoor City in Dubai, aimed at exploring new and innovative ways to boost regional tourism and make the industry more sustainable and innovative.
About 400 international professionals, journalists, and tourism experts from various countries attended the forum to exchange views on how to optimize the benefits of innovation to accelerate tourism growth and overcome business challenges.
H.E. Eng. Al Mansoori said: “This forum was held in line with the government’s outstanding initiatives and events launched during UAE Innovation Week. This reflects the government’s commitment to make innovation a way of life in the country and incorporate it in various local sectors for performance improvement. This is part of our endeavors to achieve progress and development, improve people’s lives, and establish the UAE’s leadership in all areas and fields. Tourism is a fundamental pillar of economic diversification and development process as the state prepares for a post-oil era. The Ministry of Economy is optimizing innovation to boost this vital sector, highlight its potential, and attract investment to increase its contributions to the country’s economy.”
H.E. added: “With our wise leaders’ support for tourism, the government seeks to further develop the sector by building essential infrastructure. The future of the local sector is bright, especially as it begins to attract global interest thanks to its capability to provide unique and innovative services. These services make tourism experience in the UAE more rich, varied and stimulating. More and more visitors are now repeatedly coming back to the country. The challenge lies in our ability to continue this journey and sustain the required momentum. We have no doubt that innovation in tourism development is key to minimizing challenges. Creative ideas, innovative and modern trends, and advanced technologies will bolster this sector.”
For his part, H.E. Mohammed Khamis Al Mheiri, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Economy, said: “The Ministry-led initiatives and projects that support the tourism sector reflect its commitment to UAE Vision 2021. Innovation is the central theme of these initiatives as it becomes an important part of the sector’s development. This important annual forum will provide a platform where industry leaders can develop a roadmap, explore future challenges, and create innovative and creative solutions to pressing issues.”
H.E. added that the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to the UAE’s gross domestic product (GDP) stood at AED 134 billion in 2015, accounting for 8.7 per cent. It grew by 4.4 per cent this 2016 per the World Travel and Tourism Council’s data. The sector's contribution is expected to increase at a rate of 5.4 per cent annually over the next 10 years to reach AED 236.8 billion by the year 2026 and will account for 11.2 per cent of the total GDP. The tourism and travel sector is also expected to generate more than 370 million jobs by 2026.
H.E. Al Mheiri added: “This strong and rapid growth requires global tourist destinations to provide suitable environments that lead to business development. It also requires effective coordination between government institutions and the private sector all over the world. Innovation will help tourism officials and other stakeholders to develop strategies that will attract more tourists and elevate tourism experience in their respective areas. Additionally, we also discussed the best global practices to achieve this goal.”
The forum included four distinctive interactive workshops on the shift in the tourism sector, the transformation of various global destinations, the transition to smart cities, and the innovative visitors’ experiences. The workshops were led by industry specialists and support the sector’s various facets by promoting discussions and dialogues on the importance of innovation.
During the main sessions, the topics covered included the role of innovation in building a sustainable tourism sector and the development of strategies to highlight the industry’s new segments. The sessions also highlighted the latest smartphone applications, smart tourism services, and the implementation of best practices to promote innovation.
Richard Wiegmann, Managing Director, Saber Hospitality, said: "I am honored to be a part of this unique event in which the travel and tourism business segment continues to be among the main pillars of economic growth in the Middle East. The travel and tourism industry continues to improve to keep up with the changing market trends and consumer preferences. Technology is also considered a golden opportunity to develop an effective distribution strategy and implement it carefully along with our partners in the region, where we always strive for innovation in the tourism sector and provide the latest global technology for travelers and visitors.”
Martin Kubler, CEO, SPS Affinity, who led the workshop on ‘Visitors experiments in Innovative Hotels,’ said: “It is my pleasure to be a part of this event. I’ve always been a supporter of innovation in the tourism sector and I hope that this event provided participants with many new ideas to transform the tourism activities in Dubai to ensure that the emirate remains a world-class destination for many years to come. Dubai hotels are well known worldwide in providing an excellent service. During my workshop, participants will learn how various stakeholders in the industry can work together to come up with a successful future for the hotels and tourism sector in general.”
Mansoor Mohamed, Tourism Advisor and Consultant, said: “The tourism sector is witnessing a major shift and innovation affects every aspect of a visitor’s experience. Therefore, discussions on big data, artificial intelligence, and other trends and organizational issues are some of the factors that were explored during the ‘The Tourism Innovation and Transformation Forum 2016.’”
Yousef Tuqan Tuqan, Group Vice President of Brand Marketing & Loyalty at Jumeirah Group, said: “Since its inception, Jumeirah Group seeks to be at the forefront of development and innovation in the field of tourism and hospitality at the local and global levels. It is also considered a main pillar of Dubai’s development and innovation efforts. We are delighted to be participating in the forum as we constantly strive to share our experiences that made our brand a leader in innovation in tourism and hospitality sectors.”
Bijou Seth, Director of Projects in the knowledge network that organized the forum’s meetings on behalf of the Ministry, said: “The tourism industry welcomes this forum organized in a short span of time. Nonetheless, we were able to gather participants from 18 different countries. We hope that the forum will become an annual platform for innovation in the tourism sector.”
The forum’s key sponsors were Jumeirah Group, and Barakat Travel and Tourism in Spain and with the support of various local tourism bodies in the UAE. The partners and supporters for the event included Dubai Travel and Tour Agents Group, Farnek, My Climate, and Oxford Business Group and Space Graduates Group of the Harvard Business School.