A vast array of exhibitors had a chance to illustrate just what makes their destinations unique to a global audience at WTM London 2019 – the event where ideas arrive.
Saudi Arabia is to develop an area the size of Belgium for tourism on its Red Sea coast and is preparing to open the renovated Diriyah old city for visitors in 2020.
The Red Sea Development Project encompasses a 28,000 sq. km area that sits 500km north of Jeddah. It includes 200km of coast and 90 islands. A first phase, due to open in 2022, will see a new international airport and 14 hotels with 3,000 rooms. The area also includes Madain Saleh, the Nabataean city similar to Petra, one of a handful of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country.
Speaking at WTM London, the world’s biggest travel trade show, John Pagano, The Red Sea Development Company chief executive, said: “We believe we have the most ambitious tourism project in the world today. We are not going to have 10 million visitors; we will have probably close to 50 hotels and only 20 islands will be developed.
“It will be 100% reliable on renewable energy, that has never been done anywhere in the world on this scale.”
Majed Alghanim, managing director of tourism and quality of life, Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority, said the projects were part of the Vision 2030 programme to diversify the country’s economy. Currently, tourism is 3% of its earnings, with an aim to increase this to 10%, creating 1.6 million jobs.
“Our target is 100 million visitors by 2030,” he said. He declined to comment on whether Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 would deter visitors.
Saudi Arabia launched an e-visa scheme for 49 countries in September. In the first month, 77,000 were granted, which the country says is proof of its potential.
Accor will open 40 hotels in Saudi Arabia in the next four years, bringing the total to more than 75. Mark Willis, the brand’s chief executive, Middle East and Africa, said the country was “the number one destination focus for us across the Middle East”.
Vietnam also has big plans for the future of its tourism industry, as its government tourism organisation laid out in a press conference today that took place in the International Media Centre.
The country aims to achieve the same level of UK visitors as Thailand within 10 years, helped by the launch in London this month of its first overseas tourist office.
Director of Vietnam National Administration of Tourism Nguyen Trung Kanh said: “Vietnam and Thailand are in the same region and we have the same potential for tourism.
“We will try to work with Vietnam Airlines for more frequency from the UK [on existing routes] and also to expand to new destinations. We will also request the government improves the visa situation not only for the UK market but other Western markets to Vietnam.”
UK marketing campaigns, including on social media, were also planned, he said. The UK is one of five European countries to benefit from a visa waiver scheme, though that currently expires in 2021.
Worldwide arrivals to Vietnam have been growing at around 25% in the last couple of years – one of the highest growth rates in the world. The first 10 months of 2019 drew 14.5 million international visitors to the destination, 30% up on last year.
‘New’ Vietnam destinations earmarked for a tourism push in all markets are coastal Ninh Thuan; Binh Dinh for beach and golf; Quang Binh, which has one of the world’s largest caves and Vung Tau for beach and entertainment, including casinos.
Meanwhile Ninh Binh province, which has two UNESCO world heritage sites, is being highlighted for Visit Vietnam Year 2020.
Recent Vietnam Airlines route launches include Ho Chi Minh City to Bali and to Phuket while Hanoi to Macau will start in December.
In a further boost for the destination, the first ever F1 Vietnam Grand Prix will take place in April 2020.
“Look at what Dubai has done and think about the resources Saudi has. It is going to be an absolute revelation globally,” he said.
Meanwhile, over in the UK and Ireland Inspiration Zone, Visit Wales gave us a breath of fresh air when it came to their focus for tourism heading into 2020.
The Welsh tourism board has run a series of themed years, based on topics such as Adventure, Legends, the Sea and Discovery.
Its latest research into global travel trends reveals how destinations and brands are increasingly aware of the connections between health and activities such as hiking, walking, foraging and outdoor sports.
Mari Stevens, Head of Marketing at Visit Wales, said her team has identified five key areas within the themed year which the tourist board will be promoting: women’s access to outdoor activities; walking to boost mental health; surfing to help self-esteem; short adrenaline breaks to help tackle stress; and foraging for food locally.
She said the most recent Year of Discovery campaign cost an estimated £4 million but influenced an additional £350 million in spending.
It is thought the upcoming Year of Outdoors will have a similar budget.
“The Welsh tourism industry is inspired by these themed years and it helps them to focus on what we offer,” she added.
“There are long-term benefits too as they boost confidence and improve the offering.” The themes will be seen across all of Wales’ overseas markets as well as its key source of visitors, the rest of the UK.
Stevens said: “WTM is always a great platform for doing business and building brand awareness.”
Finally, Tourism Malaysia announced today that the country is aiming to reach the milestone of 30 million international tourists in 2020.
The Southeast Asian country unveiled its latest marketing campaign, Visit Malaysia Year 2020, during a press conference at WTM London.
Tourism Malaysia’s Chairman, Ahmad Shah Hussein Tambakau said the country was also targeting tourism receipts of £18 billion next year, as well as the 30-million visitor target.
He added there would be a focus on eco-tourism and arts and culture as part of the campaign. It will also run alongside the Malaysia Year of Healthcare Tourism 2020, designed to encourage more health and wellbeing visitors to the destination.
“We are a world-class destination for healthcare and wellness for all,” said Tambakau. “We have had 1.2 million healthcare visitors in 2019.”
As part of Visit Malaysia Year 2020, Tourism Malaysia launched its London bus and taxi campaign at WTM London.
“They will provide much needed visibility and push Malaysia to this market,” added Tambakau.
The UK remains a key inbound market for Malaysia – ranking second to Saudi Arabia for the highest spending per visitor. UK arrivals were 215,731 in the first seven months of 2019, up slightly on the same period last year.
Tourism Malaysia also wants to create more partnerships with airlines to add flights to the destination, such as the new deal struck with Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways to increase visitors from Europe and the Middle East.