A new approach to sustainable tourism: Balanced Tourism

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Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority pioneers new approach to sustainable tourism: Balanced Tourism

By Theodore Koumelis in Travel Daily News of 10 May 2022.

Suwaidi Pearl Farm traditional boat

Announced at the 2022 Arabian Travel Market, the Tourism Authority shares vision to become the region’s most sustainable destination by 2025 with ambitious new approach at the heart of the Emirate’s tourism strategy.

New Delhi, India – Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) announces its bold new approach to sustainability – Balanced Tourism, a key milestone in its strategy to drive overall sector growth and become the regional leader in sustainable tourism by 2025.

Unveiled at the Arabian Travel Market 2022, the region’s leading travel and tourism event, the vision underscores the Emirate’s leadership in conscious tourism and aligns with its identity as a nature destination with a desire to progress, grow and evolve.

Under the all-encompassing banner of Balanced Tourism, the Authority is shaping tourism in the UAE by placing all aspects of sustainability (environment, culture, conservation and livability) at the center of its investment and development strategy. By ensuring issues surrounding ‘over tourism’ – such as over development, crowding of heritage sites, and the spoiling of its unique natural environment – are avoided, it is creating a destination that will resonate with today’s responsible traveller.

Balanced Tourism follows the Authority’s announcement in September 2021 of its Sustainable Tourism Destination Strategy to secure the Emirate’s long-term sustainability and drive overall growth through four key pillars: Sustainable Development; Cultural Conservation; Attractions Built with Purpose; and Community and Liveability.

Raki Phillips, Chief Executive Officer at Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, said: “The need for good stewardship of our cultural heritage, environment, people and infrastructure has never been stronger, especially in post pandemic times. Balanced Tourism does exactly that as we become ever mindful of the economic, social and environmental impacts on tourism. Simply put, it’s time to move beyond just using less plastic to adopting an all-inclusive approach – from ensuring new projects such as hotels are developed at an organic pace to building new attractions with sustainability at their core.”

Sustainable Development

Known as the ‘nature Emirate’, Ras Al Khaimah boasts 64km of pristine beaches, mangroves abundant with wildlife, rolling terracotta deserts, impressive wadis and stunning mountains. These natural assets form the backbone of the destination’s key values, and their protection is a key focus. With this in mind, the tourism board has applied a mindful approach to new hotel developments, consulting with hospitality partners to ensure spacious venues, with thoughtful, sustainable landscaping, and maintaining a measured pipeline, limiting new properties to just two per year, to avoid rapid, less well-planned expansion and overcrowding.

As the licensing authority for all new hotel developments, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority is able to set guidelines and protocols to regulate sustainability standards and work closely with hotels to ensure sustainable practices. This includes the recently announced integrated Wynn Resort, scheduled to open in 2026, that will be developed as per the Barjeel Green Building Regulations. There is also Earth Hotels Altitude, an eco-based pop-up hotel concept set to open on Jebel Jais in Q4 2022 featuring 15 fully fitted accommodation units, an activation center and swimming pool, and Saij Mountain Lodge, opening on Jebel Jais in 2023, a protected and sustainably managed mountain resort featuring sustainable lodges made from natural and sustainable materials.

Cultural Conservation

The integrated approach also includes cultural conservation. In addition to being the most fortified Emirate, with over 65 forts due to its importance as a trade route, Ras Al Khaimah is home to four archaeological sites which are tentatively on the UNESCO World Heritage site list, more than any other Emirate. The Authority has established a long-term investment plan to protect and enhance these and other key cultural projects. This includes Suwaidi Pearls Farm, the only site in the UAE which still cultivates local pearls, all done by hand to preserve the Emirate’s culture and traditions. It has also embarked on a three phased restoration program at Jazirah Al Hamra, one of the last surviving pearl diving and seafaring towns of the Arabian Gulf. Scheduled to complete in 2025, experts are working in line with UNESCO guidelines to restore the village, using traditional and sustainable materials, to potentially make it accessible to the public as an attractive tourist destination.

Attractions with Purpose

Under the Balanced Tourism platform, all upcoming attractions will be purpose built with sustainability standards and processes. Visitors can expect environmentally conscious development around Jebel Jais as well as across the more than 20 new sustainable tourism initiatives being developed across the Emirate. One example is the planned Scallop Ranch at Al Hamra Marine, a first of its kind attraction in the UAE that will support and enhance understanding of the marine ecosystem, with seagrass and sea cucumber species within the farm.

Community and Liveability

In addition, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Authority is also embracing the concept of liveability as part of its Balanced Tourism ethos. This includes several progressive policies in place to promote employee well-being, leading to the Authority to be named the sixth best workplace in the UAE by Great Place to Work® for 2022 in the Small & Medium Organisations category, the highest placed government entity. It was also named one of the Best Workplaces for Women and a Great Place to Work in 2021, the first and only organization in Ras Al Khaimah to be awarded this certification. The Authority has also introduced RAKFAM, a series of initiatives aimed at enriching connectivity, community life and facilities for tourism sector employees in the Emirate.

Sustainability as a driver of growth

Led by the Authority in December last year, government entities, hotels and private sector industries came together at the 2021 Global Citizen Forum in Ras Al Khaimah to pledge collectively to deliver the Emirate’s Sustainable Tourism Destination Strategy that will see it become the regional leader in environmentally conscious tourism by 2025. Led by the Authority

  • Providing a framework for action across a diverse program of activity, the guiding principles include:
  • Protecting and enhancing the Emirate’s cultural and natural heritage
  • Delivering new sustainable tourism developments
  • Working with business, government and community partners to ensure economic returns from tourism investment and the development of human capital
  • Regular measurement and benchmarking
  • Minimizing energy, water usage and waste generation across the destination
  • Respecting and safeguarding local culture and communities
About the author
Theodore Koumelis, Co-Founder & Managing Director

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.

 

‘Insufficient, uneven’ growth rates to weigh on MENA

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The above-featured image is that of the World Bank’s MENA Economic Update on how ‘Insufficient, uneven’ growth rates to weigh on MENA, is explained in Gulf Times of Qatar ViewPoint. Here it is:

Just as the war in Ukraine is disrupting supplies and fuelling already-high inflation, economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region is forecast to be “uneven and insufficient” this year, according to the World Bank.

Growth rates in the region envisage a narrative of diverging trends.
As oil exporters benefit from surging prices, higher food prices have hit the whole region.

The GCC is expected to notch up 5.9% growth this year, buoyed by oil prices and helped by a vaccination rate much higher than the rest of Mena.
But most Mena economies — 11 out of 17 — are not seen exceeding their pre-pandemic GDP per capita in 2022, says the World Bank.

GCC economies have seen a relatively strong start to 2022 with the hydrocarbons sector having benefited from increased oil production so far this year, says Emirates NBD.
Its survey data for the first quarter of the year point to a solid expansion in non-oil sectors as well, with strong growth in business activity in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
In the wider Mena region, however, countries like Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia – home to large, mainly urban populations, but lacking oil wealth – are struggling to maintain subsidies for food and fuel that have helped keep a lid on discontent.

Egypt has been struggling to maintain a bread subsidy programme used by about 70mn of its citizens with the coronavirus pandemic hitting the national budget, and surging wheat prices are exacerbating the challenge.

The World Food Programme has warned that people’s resilience is at “breaking point,” in the region.
Global foods costs are up more than 50% from mid-2020 to a record and households worldwide are trying to cope with the strains on their budgets.
In North Africa, the challenge is more acute because of a legacy of economic mismanagement, drought and social unrest that’s forcing governments to walk a political tightrope at a precarious time.

The MENA region’s net food and energy importers are especially vulnerable to shocks to commodity markets and supply chains resulting from Russia’s war on Ukraine, according to the International Monetary Fund.

That’s in countries where the rising cost of living helped trigger the Arab Spring uprisings a little over a decade ago.
The region’s GDP is forecast to rise 5.2% this year after an estimated 3.3% expansion last year and a 3.1% contraction in 2020.

“Even if this high growth rate for the region as a whole materialises in this context of uncertainty, and there’s no guarantee that it will…(it) will be both insufficient and uneven across the region,” according to Daniel Lederman, World Bank lead economist for the MENA region.

Countries that are net importers of oil and food and which entered 2022 with high levels of debt as a ratio of GDP are most vulnerable, he said, pointing to Egypt and Lebanon as examples.
Even before Russia invaded Ukraine, food prices had been rising around the world, driven by the higher shipping costs, energy inflation and labour shortages that have followed in the pandemic’s wake, along with extreme weather.
Food crisis was likely to worsen in the Middle East and North Africa as Covid-19 continued, according to a report from the regional directors of Unicef, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, WFP and World Health Organisation in July 2021.

Saudi start-ups rewriting the big MENA growth story

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Start-ups are these days rewriting the big MENA growth. A story that sums up the new trend at this conjecture in business life in the MENA region. Most importantly, it is showing the way of a hydrocarbon-based economy moving into a more diversified one . . .

The above featured image is of World Economic Forum that explored the same topic back in 2019. Here is the story as it stands in 2022:

Saudi start-ups rewriting the big MENA growth story

Start-ups from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) had raised nearly $375 million during the past month, with the Saudi firms taking a sizeable chunk of the pie, netting $219 million across 23 investment deals in February, according to a report.

With 58% of overall funding in the wider region going towards Saudi Arabia, it is no surprise to hear that headcount has grown by 20% within the kingdom’s start-ups over the past 12 months, said the report by leading recruitment consultancy Robert Walters Group, adding that this figure is expected to grow further this year as the government continues to create the ideal environment for start-up growth and international investment.

The competitive recruitment landscape between big corporates and start-ups continues to grow, with approximately 3 times the number of jobs posted vs available talent.

Faisal Saqallah, the Consultant from Robert Walters Saudi Arabia, shares his thoughts on why start-ups are winning the race on talent.

The Career Accelerator

With relatively flat structures and hands-on founders and CEOs – new starters can find themselves lining up into the senior leadership team from day one, explained Saqallah.

By taking on several different responsibilities and working closely with senior members of the team, start-up environments enable you to prove your worth early on, as well providing an opportunity for your work will be recognised if it has had a direct impact on the business, he stated.

Unlike within corporate structures, leaders will be able to clearly see your involvement in a project’s initial stages to completion, and as a result, the rate of advancement at start-ups tends to be much faster.

According to the Robert Walters Report – Act Like a Start-Up and Win the War on Talent – 50% of professionals in Saudi Arabia are interested in working for a start-up for their next career move.

“This is not surprising therefore to see that our survey found that over half of professionals (52%) would be willing to take a pay cut and join a start-up if they saw an opportunity to progress much quicker than they would do within a corporate set-up,” stated Saqallah.

“After any period of economic change, we typically see a wave of entrepreneurial or start-up activity – and so it doesn’t surprise me to hear of the success of this sector, so much so that Saudi Arabia now ranks sixth in global entrepreneurial competitiveness,” he stated.

“But what is most interesting is how these relatively-new 10-30 person companies are managing to draw some of the county’s top talent away from established firms who typically offer much higher levels of job security,” noted Saqallah.

“Post pandemic we have seen a significant shift in what professionals want from their employer – with purpose, culture, and people, rated above competitive pay and the well mapped-out corporate ladder,” he added.

Scale-Up Mentality

Start-ups are designed to have high growth potential – and so it is not surprising to see that on average decisions are processed 4x quicker in a start-up than within a large firm (250+).

The changing and fast-paced nature of a start-up will keep employees on their toes, encouraging them to develop new skills as they go, and push boundaries beyond the initial job description.

Working for a start-up, you’ll understand how the whole company works and develops commercial acumen not expected of you when lower down in corporate structures. Some start-up leaders argue that these on-the-job business lessons are in fact better than an MBA. 

Our survey found that 33% of professionals are leaving their corporate jobs in order to ‘try something new,’ with a further 15% looking to reskill.

Being a start-up team member comes with great responsibilities. No matter what your title is, your work will make an impact on the company’s growth and success – and so in turn this will make you feel like the job you’re doing has an actual purpose and is a huge motivation.

In fact, a third of professionals (34%) state that the reason they move to a start-up is for challenging and interesting work – with many stating that the skills they adopt in self-management and task prioritisation then cross over into their personal life.

According to the Robert Walters, working for a fast-growth start-up can be an intense experience, so you’ll inevitably become more proactive and ambitious outside of work too. 

You’ll be constantly thinking about how to improve things, be more aware of problems and how to solve them and become more open to new cultures and ways of thinking. You’ll also learn to love challenges and even look for them!, it stated.

True Team Spirit

Almost half of professionals (42%) state that the most important value when looking for a future workplace is ‘colleagues and culture that inspire them to do their best – that’s why the company culture at start-ups is something to be valued.

Due to their smaller size, start-ups tend to foster a close-knit, collaborative environment, that encourages people to help where they can on tasks outside of their original remit.

“You’ll be surrounded by highly hardworking, talented, and ambitious people willing to do the impossible. There is a huge motivation to learn from others and contribute with your own knowledge and experience,” explained Saqallah.

Start-ups often favour a fluid structure over a rigid corporate-inspired hierarchy, enabling open discussion and co-operation between all team members. 

It is not surprising then to hear that 30% of professionals state that the most appealing thing about a start-up is the open & effective management structure.

Talent the only criteria

Start-ups have a core focus of finding the very best talent who can help achieve their ambitious goals, and as a result, remove any sort of socio-economic or geographical barriers in order to find their stars.

As a result within a start-up, it is not surprising to come across all kinds of co-workers, from all kinds of nationalities, backgrounds, and ideologies – and due to the small nature of the teams, there will naturally be ample cross-over working with colleagues with different skill sets or working styles.

This strong multicultural environment can open your mind beyond work and tasks. It also leads employees to have a global vision.

And diversity doesn’t just rest with the people, it is safe to say that almost no two days are the same within a start-up. Typically, most members of the team have to ‘juggle many hats and take on duties outside of their specific role to contribute to the success of the wider business.

The diversity of tasks helps you to develop new skills very quickly, added to that you will often be learning directly from the founder of the company and/or senior employees.

This an invaluable opportunity when you are in the early stages of your career. Not only will this keep you stimulated in your day-to-day role, but it will also give you the opportunity to find out what you are most interested in and discover what you are best at.

Innovation is the key

Start-ups are different from traditional businesses primarily because they are grounded on disruptive innovation, created to address a perceived ‘problem’ in the market.

Joining a start-up means adopting an ‘out of the box’ mindset – an ability to think on your feet and get creative with smaller budgets and fewer resources.

Autonomy is not considered a perk within a start-up but a given – in fact, it is the reason why 28% of professionals leave a corporate job to join a newly established business.

However, it is not all ‘small-time,’ in order to aid your creativity you’ll find yourself learning and using the most modern and innovative tools and platforms on a daily basis – whilst shaky to start off with you’ll soon start to embrace and speak the ‘start-up language’ in no time!

Exit Strategy

Many start-ups have an ‘exit strategy’ in mind, which means you will be working towards an ambitious deadline right from the get-go, according to Robert Walters Group.

Growth targets will be ambitious, but if achieved by the team then they stand to cash in from significant rounds of funding as shares are often offered as part of job packages as a way of competing with corporate pay, it stated.

At a start-up, your hard work can payback sometimes 10x the amount you’d get in yearly corporate bonuses within 5-7 years of joining a fast-growth start-up. The key here is to join a business whose product and vision you will truly believe in, it added.

TradeArabia News Service

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What can ancient wisdom teach us about sustainability?

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Amr Al Madani
, Chief Executive Officer, Al-Ula, elaborating in this WEF article on what can ancient wisdom teach us about sustainability, reaches a conclusion that is integrated sustainability means not only integrating the economy with nature and society but also integrating the past with the present, the present with the future, and technology with culture.

The main points are :

  • Integrated sustainability means using past, present and future techniques on projects that respect both nature and society, and technology and local culture.
  • Projects like Al-Ula’s Cultural Oasis in Saudi Arabia are trying to integrate lessons from the past to create a more sustainable future for areas in need of development.
  • These ancient techniques are being updated with new technology and innovative thinking to address sustainability issues such as desertification.

Sustainability is often viewed through a futuristic prism, yet what we often miss is that ancient wisdom can hold important lessons. The struggle to be more sustainable is a relatively new phenomenon, but inspiration can be drawn from ancient farming and water management techniques. Innovation and technology can help us adapt these techniques to meet our present-day needs.

Situated in the northwest corner of Saudi Arabia, the Al-Ula valley has seen at least 200,000 years of human history. One of the reasons people gathered here for millennia was because of the relative abundance of water in an otherwise arid environment. When long-term climate patterns meant less rainfall from the 5th millennium B.C., however, our ancestors in Al-Ula had to find ways to use this resource with minimal waste.

First, they dug wells. Then they developed an ingenious technique called qanat. Fortunately, Abdullah Nasif, an Al-Ula native and professor of archaeology at King Saud University, collected information on the qanat in the 1970s before their abandonment.

The technique involves digging a well at an elevated point in the landscape where the water table is easily reached, such as the base of a hill. Then, using a row of vertical shafts for access, digging an underground horizontal channel leading to settlements and fields at lower ground. Gravity is the channel’s engine.

Integrated sustainability means not only integrating the economy with nature and society but also integrating the past with the present, the present with the future, and technology with culture.

This point was made by William McDonough, a pioneer in this area, during the April 2021 session of Crossroads – a discussion forum that brings together industry leaders in art, nature, culture, tourism and heritage.

The important thing is to see this whole set of issues as a kind of ecosystem and organism. It’s important because everything affects everything else, and the benefits are tremendous.—William McDonough, Architect and Sustainable Development Expert

Indeed, the greening of Al-Ula is only one example on a global list of projects designed to capture a new balance in development. Other initiatives include the Great Green Wall of Africa, Pakistan’s 10 Billion Tree TsunamiLiuzhou Forest City in China, and the Saudi Green Initiative.

From responsible to sustainable development

Al-Ula’s commitment to integrated sustainability is outlined in the Al-Ula Sustainability Charter. Its 12 principles guide Al-Ula’s development to create a new path focused on protection and preservation. The charter sets out an innovative and integrated approach that marks a shift from responsible development to sustainable development.

Key elements include:

  • A zero-carbon policy supported by circular economy principles (net carbon-neutral by 2035 for local emissions, excluding air travel and food imports).
  • Increasing the share of renewables for water heating and power generation.
  • Cradle-to-cradle solutions to expand on the use, recovery and reuse of safe and healthy products and materials.
  • An inclusivity framework which ensures that Al-Ula’s people, as the guardians of ancestral values, techniques, and traditions, are central to the long-term success of Al-Ula’s development as primary beneficiaries and partners.

Infrastructure agreements signed in October 2021 with infrastructure firm AECOM and the French consortium Egis, further this commitment to sustainability and community inclusion. For example, AECOM’s Sustainable Legacies strategy will work hand-in-glove with Al-Ula’s Sustainability Charter.

The Al-Ula Sustainability charter sets out an innovative and integrated approach that marks a shift from responsible development to sustainable development.—Amr Al Madani, Royal Commission for Al-Ula

Creating a sustainability oasis

One of our flagship projects, the Cultural Oasis, is a prime example of converting the charter into action. The project aspires to revive Al-Ula’s legacy as a prosperous agricultural heartland where for centuries farmers grew oranges, lemons, figs, pomegranates, chickpeas, barley and wheat. Our research shows that the advent of modern farming methods in the 20th century caused the water table to descend, greatly reducing the scale of farming.

Research and innovative solutions will rehabilitate the land and reverse desertification of the area. The Royal Commission for Al-Ula has already started to deliver programmes as part of the Cultural Oasis project, including wadi clean-up; the Orange Path project, where guests can walk through a natural setting to a citrus market; the Incense Road Market activation; and the Madrasat AdDeera (Al-Ula Arts and Design Centre) programme, which promotes the production of local handicrafts.

Part of an integrated approach means ensuring the community is on board and actively seeing the benefits of implementing more sustainable agricultural and environmental practices.—Amr Al Madani, Royal Commission for Al-Ula

Integrating the community

Part of an integrated approach means ensuring the community is on board and actively seeing the benefits of implementing more sustainable agricultural and environmental practices. In this regard, economic sustainability is critical. For many years, Al-Ula has had a stubbornly high unemployment rate (44.9% in 2019, for example, according to figures from the Kingdom’s General Authority for Statistics). Advancing sustainable practices can be challenging as a result, particularly if people believe there will be a cost to their livelihoods.

In Al-Ula, our approach works on all fronts to deliver a balanced approach to sustainability and we have already seen the first shoots of growth. According to Saudi Central Bank data, point of sale transactions in Al-Ula County have risen from 0.86 million in 2018 to 5.22 million in 2020, and value-added tax collections during the same time span have risen from 21.9 million riyals ($5.5 million) to 45.3 million riyals ($12 million), according to the General Authority of Zakat & Tax.

By 2035, our target is that Al-Ula will have two million visitors a year, will have made a cumulative contribution of 120 billion riyals ($32 billion) to Saudi GDP, and created 38,000 jobs. These goals are ambitious, yet achievable. And the ripple effects on environmental and social sustainability will surely follow.

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The impact of Covid-19 on labour markets in MENA

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According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), some of the emerging market economies grew in 2020 as government incentives and support were put into action. The Forum‘s article by Ragui Assaad, Caroline Krafft and Mohamed Ali Marouani confirm that the impact of Covid-19 on labour markets in MENA in 2021 was unprecedented and not really well lived in by most. Would this pace or resilience continue in 2022?

Employment is recovering but income losses persist in MENA countries in the second year of the pandemic. Two recent ERF policy briefs summarised in this column illustrate the mix of recovery and ongoing challenges for households and firms.

With the Covid-19 pandemic on the verge of its third year, Middle East and North African (MENA) economies are recovering from the slump caused by lockdowns and other economic disruptions, but households and firms are still experiencing steep income and revenue losses well into the pandemic’s second year.

In two recently published policy briefs, we examine how workers and firms have fared in the first half of 2021 in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia (Krafft et al, 2021, 2022).

Household and enterprise surveys during the pandemic

The analysis is based on the COVID-19 MENA Monitor Household and Enterprise Surveys conducted by ERF over the second half of 2020 and the first half of 2021 (OAMDI – Open Access Micro Data Initiative, 2021a, 2021b).

The surveys were conducted by telephone on a panel of firms and enterprises. The household surveys are the main source of information on how households, workers and microenterprises experienced the pandemic, whereas the enterprise surveys focused on the experience of small and medium enterprises (those with between six and 199 workers) in February 2020 (pre-pandemic).

Four waves of the household survey were conducted in Morocco and Tunisia centred around November 2020, February 2021, April 2021 and June 2021. Two waves were conducted in Egypt and Jordan centred around February and June 2021.

Two waves of the enterprise surveys were conducted in each of the four countries corresponding to the first and second quarter of 2021. Household and enterprise surveys were conducted in Sudan as part of the same series, but are not discussed here.

Health and economic outcomes in the pandemic

Among the four countries, Jordan and Tunisia experienced much higher rates of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the first half of 2021 than either Egypt or Morocco. But while Egypt gradually loosened its closure measures in 2021, Morocco, like Jordan and Tunisia, maintained more stringent measures than the world average.

Egypt was also the only one among the four countries that managed to maintain a positive economic growth rate of 1.5% in 2020. In contrast, Tunisia experienced a large economic contraction of 8.8% and Morocco likewise contracted 6.3%, while Jordan’s economy contracted by 1.6%. Despite relatively strong recoveries in Morocco and Tunisia in the first half of 2021, their economies, as well as that of Jordan, remained depressed relative to pre-pandemic levels.

The tourist and transport industries were the hardest hit in all four countries, with tourism-related industries the most negatively affected in terms of closures, reduced hours and revenue losses.

Labour market outcomes

The evidence suggests that aggregate labour market indicators, such as labour force participation, employment and unemployment rates, were recovering in the first half of 2021, except in Morocco where the progress made earlier in the year later reversed. With the exception of Morocco, more of those who lost jobs early in the pandemic were regaining employment over the course of 2021.

Private wage workers, especially those hired informally, faced substantially more challenges related to layoffs/suspensions and wage reductions in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia than in Morocco. But the prevalence of these challenges decreased in these three countries from February to June 2021, while it increased in Morocco.

The results of the household and enterprise surveys suggest that microenterprises were the most likely to be closed due to Covid-19 in the first quarter of 2021. If open, micro and small firms were more likely to have reduced hours than medium firms.

As Figure 1 shows, a similar proportion of microenterprises across the four countries reported substantially reduced revenues, but higher proportions of small and medium enterprises reported such revenue losses in Jordan and Morocco than in Egypt and Tunisia in the first quarter of 2021.

Figure 1: Revenue change (past 60 days versus 2019), by firm size in February 2020 and country, micro, small and medium enterprises (percentage), quarter one, 2021.

Source: Krafft et al (2021), based on data from the ERF COVID-19 MENA Monitor Household and Enterprise Surveys

Income levels

Despite some recovery in employment rates, household income levels remain depressed, with just under a half to two-thirds of households in all four countries reporting income losses in June 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, the share reporting income losses increased from February to June 2021.

As Figure 2 shows, household income losses were highest for the households that were poorest pre-pandemic, confirming the adverse effects of the pandemic on poverty and inequality.

Figure 2: Changes in household income from February 2020 to June 2021 (percentage of households), by country and February 2020 income quartile

Source: Krafft et al (2022), based on COVID-19 MENA Monitor Household Survey in June 2021.

Social support

Social support reached a relatively limited fraction of the population, except in Jordan, where it reached 53% in February and 44% in June 2021. Assistance was generally well-targeted, reaching a higher proportion of lower-income households than higher-income households. But while targeting efficiency improved in Morocco over time, it deteriorated in Egypt.

Targeting of assistance was generally not based on the workers’ vulnerability with respect to labour market status, again with the possible exception of Jordan, which successfully targeted irregular and informal workers.

Firms’ experiences

It appears that firms in Jordan and Morocco were experiencing more difficulty than firms in Egypt and Tunisia due to the Covid-19-induced crisis in the first quarter of 2021. Although the Tunisian economy had the deepest overall downturn in 2020, it appears to have recovered somewhat by the first quarter of 2021 so that the adverse effects on firms were reduced.

The downturn in Egypt appears to be shallower than in the other countries, sparing Egyptian firms the worst of the negative outcomes. Yet in all countries, there is a clear need for continuing support, especially targeted to the most affected industries and firms, as the economic effects of Covid-19 continue to affect micro, small and medium enterprises.

Support for firms

Although policies were instituted in all four countries to support firms through the crisis, the reach of these policies appears to have been limited. A half to three-quarters of small and medium enterprises reported they had not applied for or received any government assistance.

The most common type of support received (and needed) in all four countries was business loans, but firms in Morocco and Tunisia also report needing (and sometimes receiving) salary subsidies. A substantial proportion of firms in all four countries also expressed the need for reduced or delayed taxes.

The featured top image is for illustration and is credit to Reuters