A new approach to sustainable tourism: Balanced Tourism

A new approach to sustainable tourism: Balanced Tourism

In Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, the Tourism Development Authority pioneers a new approach to sustainable tourism.  It is that of Balanced Tourism.  But what can all surrounding ancient wisdom teach us about sustainability?

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.

 

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019


It has been revealed by the local media that Chinese tourists numbers are growing by the day in the Gulf region. In effect, the number of Chinese tourists travelling to the GCC is expected to increase 54 percent from 1.4 million in 2018 to 2.2 million in 2023, according to new research. In however a wider view of the flows, here are excerpts of the WEF’s MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019.


MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

Overview

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region significantly improved its T&T competitiveness since the last edition of the TTCI. With 12 of the 15 MENA economies covered by this year’s index increasing their score compared to 2017, the region was able to slightly outpace the global average in competitiveness growth. This is particularly important given that, in the aggregate, T&T accounts for a greater share of regional GDP than in any of the other four regions. MENA is also the only region where international visitor spending is greater than domestic visitor spending. Yet despite improved competitiveness and a strong reliance on T&T for overall economic growth, MENA continues to underperform the global TTCI score average.

MENA’s below-average competitiveness is primarily a result of low scores on indicators related to natural and cultural resources and international openness. The region’s historical and religious heritage and geographic features create the potential for significant natural and cultural tourism; yet, while some individual nations come close, no MENA country scores above the global average for natural resources and only Egypt and Iran score above for cultural resources. In fact, the entire region’s score in both of these areas has fallen in recent years. More needs to be done to expand habit protection and heritage sites. Moreover, digital demand for MENA’s natural, cultural and entertainment demand is fairly low, indicating potential gaps in marketing and traveller perceptions. One potential reason for this gap is continued safety and security concerns. Eleven MENA countries rank within the bottom 40 for terrorism incidents, with two among the worst 10 countries globally. Further, the region is plagued by geopolitical tensions, instability and conflict. Security concerns also play a role in why MENA members are some of the most restrictive when it comes to international openness, with only Qatar, Oman and Morocco making significant improvements. Consequently, travellers often face barriers when visiting the region, while the aviation and overall T&T sector is stifled by limiting bilateral air service and regional trade agreements.

More positively, stability, safety and security have started to recover throughout the region, slightly reducing travel fears and underlying one of the key reasons for the recent pickup in arrivals. Furthermore, it seems that there has been greater recognition of T&T’s importance, with broad regional improvements in T&T prioritization, including increased government funding and more effective marketing campaigns to bring back or attract new visitors. Greatly enhanced environmental sustainability also has the potential to pay dividends for natural assets (note that environmental sustainability comparison is influenced by the use of new data to measure marine sustainability). In addition, prices have become more competitive among countries within the region, amplifying MENA’s single biggest advantage relative to the global average. As one of the world’s main producers of fossil fuels, MENA includes some of the world’s lowest fuel prices, with some governments offering subsidies. Moreover, many of the region’s economies offer visitors greater purchasing power (especially Egypt, Algeria, Iran and Tunisia), which has been increased by lower exchange rates. Yet it is reductions in ticket taxes and airport charges as well as lower hotel prices that have primarily driven regional price competitiveness in recent years.

Infrastructure has also improved, with particularly impressive growth in the number of airlines and route capacity. Despite these gains, world-class infrastructure remains concentrated among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The Gulf countries have been able to use their natural resource wealth, central geographic location and relative security to develop world-class T&T infrastructure, defined by quality airports, ports, roads, tourist services and some of the world’s leading airlines. These efforts are in stark contrast to some other MENA nations that—due to a lack of investment and ongoing instability—have yet to develop competitive infrastructure, especially regarding air transport. Similarly, the region’s above-average score on the Enabling Environment subindex is due to the performance of the Gulf countries and Israel, which have developed economies, strong business environments, ICT readiness and some of the highest scores in safety and security. Finally, most regional economies also score near the bottom when it comes to female participation in the labour market, depriving the T&T industry of a greater labour and skills pool.

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

Subregion Analysis

The Middle East subregion is by far the more competitive of the two subregions, outscoring North Africa on nine pillars. Thanks to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and Israel, the subregion is wealthier and more developed than the North Africa subregion. Consequently, it is no surprise that the Middle East scores above the global and regional averages on indicators related to enabling environment and infrastructure, with particularly high ranks on ICT readiness and business environment. Nevertheless, the subregion does trail the world and North Africa on T&T prioritization and policy and natural and cultural resources. In particular, many Middle East nations score relatively low on the International Openness and Natural Resources pillars, which represent the subregion’s greatest disadvantages relative to global competition. One of the Middle East’s highest-scoring pillars is Price Competitiveness, with some economies leveraging their fossil fuel abundance to offer lower fuel prices. Since the 2017 edition of the report, the subregion has improved across all pillars of T&T policy and enabling conditions, safety and security, ICT readiness and much of infrastructure, but declined or stagnated on other pillars.

This year, eight out of the subregion’s 11 members improved their TTCI score since 2017. Oman demonstrated the greatest improvement, moving up eight places to 58th. MENA’s safest (3rd) country recorded the subregion’s fastest improvement for its human resources and labour markets (103rd to 65th), and is among the most improved when it comes to international openness (116th to 97th), environmental sustainability (109th to 57th) and overall infrastructure (60th to 52nd). Yet some of the improvement in environmental sustainability is exaggerated due to new marine sustainability metrics. In contrast, the UAE had the Middle East’s largest decline, falling from 29th to 33rd, including the biggest percentage decline in score on the Safety and Security pillar (falling from 2nd to 7th) and Ground and Port Infrastructure (19th to 31st) and the subregion’s only decline on Environmental Sustainability (40th to 41st). Nevertheless, the country remains in the lead in the Middle East and is MENA’s top TTCI scorer, leading on ICT readiness (4th), air transport (4th) and tourist service (22nd) infrastructure. The Middle East’s—and MENA’s—largest T&T economy is Saudi Arabia (69th), which scores above the subregion’s average on most pillars, but near the bottom on international openness (137th). Plagued by ongoing conflict and a lingering humanitarian crisis, Yemen (140th), ranks at the bottom of the global index.

North Africa scores lower than the Middle East, but demonstrates far greater improvement in overall competitiveness. The subregion outscores the Middle East on five pillars and bests the global average on four. North Africa is the most price competitive subregion in the world, with three out of its four members among the 12 least-expensive economies covered in the report. North Africa’s greatest advantage relative to the Middle East is its natural and cultural resources—although it still underperforms the world on both the Natural Resources and Cultural and Business Travel pillars. The subregion also bests the MENA average in prioritization of T&T and environmental sustainability, areas where it has improved since 2017. On the other hand, North Africa has underdeveloped infrastructure and T&T enabling environment, contrasting some of the high performers in the Middle East subregion. In particular, North Africa trails when it comes to tourist service infrastructure and ICT readiness. The subregion’s strong rate of improvement is due to enhanced safety and security, overall T&T policy and enabling conditions and air transport and ground infrastructure.

All four members of the North Africa subregion increased their TTCI scores over 2017. Egypt (65th) is the subregion’s top scorer and its largest T&T economy. The country is also MENA’s most improved scorer. Egypt is price competitive (3rd) and has MENA’s highest score for cultural resources (22nd). Its improvement comes from increases on 11 pillar scores. These include the world’s second-best enhancement of safety and security (130th to 112th), albeit from a low starting base. Morocco (66th) demonstrates North Africa’s slowest improvement in TTCI performance. The country is a close second to Egypt when it comes to overall competitiveness, boasting the MENA region’s top TTCI scores on natural resources (63rd) and North Africa’s best enabling environment (71st) and infrastructure (69th). However, TTCI performance improvement is tempered by declining safety and security (20th to 28th), which remains well above the subregion’s average, and a deteriorating combination of natural and cultural (41st to 54th) resources. North Africa’s lowest scoring member is Algeria (116th), which nonetheless did move up two ranks globally. The country ranks low on business environment (118th), T&T prioritization (132nd), tourist services infrastructure (136th), environmental sustainability (133rd), natural resources (126th) and international openness (139th). On the other hand, Algeria is one of the most price-competitive countries in the world (8th).

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

Read more on the original PDF document.

How Middle Eastern retailers can keep up with E-commerce

How Middle Eastern retailers can keep up with E-commerce

This article is part of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa and is co-authored by Abdellah Iftahy, Partner, McKinsey & Company, Franck Laizet, Partner, McKinsey & Company and Zaid Ghazaleh, Associate Partner, McKinsey & Company.

A saleswoman attends to a customer at the cash counter inside a shop at Dragon Mart in Dubai, March 2, 2011. Built in the shape of a dragon, the 1.2 km long and 150,000 sqm large mall is a trading centre with almost 3,950 shops selling mainly Chinese products ranging from office appliances to garments and daily products.  Picture taken March 2, 2011.    REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Tags: BUSINESS) - GM1E73318X601

01 Apr 2019

Traditional bricks and mortar retail is under attack globally. Retailers have struggled to compete with the growing popularity of large-scale competitors such as Amazon and Alibaba. The industry is also in the grip of a revolution powered by digital technology, as people shop online rather than in stores. Millennials comprise the largest internet audience, and will have more buying power than any generation before. But they still want to touch, feel and explore products. Shopping is becoming more of an experiential activity, during which stores compete for consumers’ “share of wallet”.

Middle Eastern retailers and consumer goods companies are even more vulnerable, as the pressure from e-commerce and changes in consumer buying behaviour are compounded by rising costs associated with economic reforms, such as workforce localization, taxes, and increasing fuel and electricity prices. As prices rise, consumer buying power and confidence is becoming subdued.

In fact, our latest survey, conducted in September 2018, reveals that consumers in the Middle East are spending even more cautiously than they have in previous years. They are also more anxious: 80% of survey respondents in Saudi Arabia and 72% in the United Arab Emirates are worried about losing their jobs. In both countries, more than 40% of respondents said they’re cutting down on spending and paying closer attention to prices.

Consequently, traditional retailers have limited levers to operate in response. They have a large fixed base of assets, which they need to rethink as shoppers favour the convenience of purchasing online rather than visiting stores. It is absolutely critical that retailers think about how to operate at maximum efficiency, with a hard focus on cash and working capital, in order to survive to the next stage. They are in a paradoxical moment where their revenues and returns are declining, yet they must invest in technology. It is not always easy to justify this spend with investors. And in thinking beyond the present to the different value propositions and approaches needed to recapture the customer, they must re-skill their employees and recruit new talent.

Customers are now more interested in experiences than products. In considering how to stay with them throughout their buying journey and not just at the end of it, retailers need to make many changes in the way they reach their customer, how they interact with them, what they learn about them, and how they ultimately sell them a product, service or experience. Convenience is also becoming important to consumers as they move their retail activity online. In fact, 50-60% of consumers state that saving time is one of the main reasons why they shop online.


Digital technologies and changing shopping habits are a clear threat to traditional retail business models. But there are positive ways to respond to these trends. To embrace these opportunities, real-estate developers must get closer to consumers and figure out how to meet their evolving wants and needs.

The good news is that by leveraging their assets – physical proximity to consumers, logistics, brand, in-store experience – traditional players still have the right to win. The Middle East has a young population with aspiring lifestyle choices, and with the various macroeconomic transformations taking place, buying power will recover and grow. But retailers must be willing to undertake rapid, radical and lasting transformation when it comes to efficiency, and the ways they embrace technology and offer products.

A transformation can be designed around the following five fundamentals or key success factors.

First of all, the full leadership team – not just the Board and CEO – has to be behind the change required to turn the business around.

Second, this motivation needs to move beyond the boardroom fast and engage the front line, going deep and wide across the organization.

In the Middle East, those two elements are typically in place. It’s the following three that need more focus.

The right structures need to be put in place to ensure that any response is effectively executed and delivered – for example how the business is organized, how governance is implemented, and how objectives and deliverables are executed.

Culture is also important. This is not about how to respond from a technical point of view, but the changes necessary in the mindsets and behaviours of everyone in the organization to make the transformation a success.

The last element is identifying, developing and elevating the best people in your organization, because they are the resource who will take you from point A to point B.

There is no doubt that physical retail is here to stay, and will keep its place alongside the online marketplace. Even e-commerce giants are entering into physical retail, as digital natives invest offline – see Amazon acquiring Wholefoods, and Alibaba’s Hema concept. These new stores have decoupled the notions of “shopping” and ‘“buying”, showing the face of retail is changing. Traditional retailers’ main challenge is to accelerate the pace of transformation, while ensuring they address, in a holistic way, the growth side, cost side, cash side and re-skilling of employees, in order to deliver results.

Read more here.

Have you read?


The Flower Men of Saudi Arabia

The Flower Men of Saudi Arabia

Al Jazeera’s Middle East showcased this story in pictures of certain peoples of the Arabian peninsula. Amongst their present wide and diverse variety, the Flower Men of Saudi Arabia are exceptionally unique in their well held till today customs.

These are the Descendants of the ancient Tihama and Asir, fierce warriors, reclusive tribesmen, and lovers of floral headwear.

The Flower Men of Saudi Arabia

By Eric Lafforgue, 12 Mar 2019

The most elegant wreaths are made with a type of white jasmine that is so fragile it has to be kept in iceboxes by the sellers. A wreath like this can be worn for two days. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera

Saudi Arabia – In Jizan and Asir, Saudi Arabia’s southern provinces, live the reclusive Flower Men.

For centuries, these descendants of the ancient Tihama and Asir tribes have been known for wearing colourful flower garlands on their head.

They lived completely isolated until 20 years ago; their villages had no electricity or paved roads and they lived according to traditional tribal law. 

Even today, the Flower Men were reluctant to have their photos taken or even meet strangers.

They enjoy their peaceful way of life and the margin of autonomy they are given.

They are the only tribes in Saudi Arabia who are allowed to grow and consume khat, a stimulant drug. Possession of drugs is punishable by the death penalty in the kingdom.

The Flower Men also hold strongly to their tradition of floral decorations as a peaceful way of setting them apart.

The community spreads across the border into Yemen, a country the Saudi-led coalition is targeting in air raids.

The mountainous region has become popular and attracts many local tourists from the lowlands. The Flower Men grow coffee on the terraces, but also khat, a stimulant drug. This is an exception in a country where possession of drugs leads to the death penalty. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
Flower Men can also be found on the other side of the border: in Yemen. Because they feel a strong kinship with the people in Yemen, the war there makes people unhappy. The conflict also affects the local economy and brings many refugees into Saudi Arabia. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
Flower Men do not wear the traditional ghutra (headdress), instead adorning their heads with beautiful, scented wreaths of fresh flowers. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
Sometimes the Flower Men will share images of their wreaths on social media platforms like Instagram. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
The Flower Men go to the market early in the morning to buy ready-made wreaths. Some prefer to select their own herbs and flowers, preparing the garlands themselves, for a more unique look. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
Herbs such as wild basil, fenugreek and marigold flowers are most popular. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
In the Mahalah Flower Men market, an old man wears traditional shoes made of palm leaves. Things started to change with the construction of a cable car track in the 1990s that allowed access to the remote villages of the Flower Men. But traditions remain strong with the elders. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
This is a village that was inhabited by the Flower Men until the 1980s. Some of the structures are more than 200 years old. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera

For more pictures, visit Al Jazeera

Pyrrhic Victory

Pyrrhic Victory

I find it difficult to write about my subject for the week so I will start where I feel more comfortable; in ancient history.  In 279 BC King Pyrrhus of Epirus won the second of two victories against the ascendant Roman Empire, this was impressive except that Plutarch records that he had lost his friends, commanders and so many of his men that his country was all but destroyed.  The term, ` Pyrrhic Victory ’ is an expression that loosely means that you might have won something but it has gained you nothing or that everyone has lost.  This is very is much an expression that comes to mind when thinking of the First World War.

Friday was the anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme, infamous as being the bloodiest day in British history.   It is said that the opening barrage was heard in London, which sounds incredible, but possible given that much of southern of England was quiet and agrarian.  Royalty and heads of state paid their respects yesterday to young men sent to their deaths by royalty and heads of state.  Millions of people are still horrified and saddened by the awful unnecessarily prolonged suffering of `men’ still likely to be at school today.

I saw the old film version of the book `All Quiet on the Western front,’ last night, it mirrors the experiences of a German soldier but it could have been written by any soldier at all.  Life in the home` countries was never the same again but the brunt was borne by young men.

Bataille de la Somme : Monument britannique de Thiepval.

Bataille de la Somme : Monument britannique de Thiepval.

I suppose everyone has their own way of remembering the past but I am most struck by the village monuments across Britain (and everywhere else).  They contain mostly names, not lengthy diatribes because what mattered most were names.  Many men did not have graves and so there was nowhere to record their deaths but there is more to the monuments.  The stone names were so important because most young men could never have children to carry on their names in living form.  It is sad today that we usually cannot put a face to the name on the stone but perhaps we could slow our steps as we pass and see the once hopeful young people beyond the cold, faded lettering.

I should add that even for soldiers old enough to have children there is a sense in which the stone writing is a sad reflection of the fact that they will not be making their mark in the world.

The world where a great number of these soldiers come from were as elaborated on by :

  1. The Role Of Empire And Commonwealth Troops During The Battle Of The Somme edited by Jessica Talarico .
  1. Volunteers put the Battle of the Somme in our midst by James Pickford .

A typical war memorial

A WWII typical war memorial

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