EUROPE/MIDDLE EAST. Outbound tourism from the Arab Gulf States has grown very strongly in recent years, with international tourism expenditure surpassing US$60 billion in 2017, according to new research.

The latest report from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the European Travel Commission (ETC) examined the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – comprising six countries of the Arabian Peninsula – with an additional focus on the image of Europe as a tourism destination.

It found that per-capita international tourism spending from the GCC was six and a half times higher than the global average in 2017, with expenditure estimated to be more than US$60 billion in 2017, up from US$40 billion in 2010.

Enhanced air connectivity is a major contributor to the exponential growth of spending by tourists from the Gulf States.

The GCC countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Among its key findings, the report stated that outbound travel from GCC countries to European destinations had benefited from the unprecedented growth in air travel during the past decade, with Gulf carriers becoming major players in long-haul aviation. Air connectivity between Europe and the GCC had seen exponential growth, providing easy access to travel between the two regions.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvil said: “GCC countries constitute a fast-growing market with the potential to make a significant contribution to European tourism, diversifying demand and promoting new tourism segments.”

The report noted that GCC travellers were mostly young and family-oriented, with large disposable incomes, and looking for high-quality accommodation, food and retail services. They valued Europe’s variety of attractions and landscapes, developed infrastructure and common visa and currency systems, which make multi-destination travel easier.

Europe was seen as offering diversity in experiences as well as opportunities to shop for luxury and designer fashion. Barriers to booking a trip to Europe included safety and security concerns, the language barrier and the high cost of holidays.

The report concluded with specific recommendations on how to position and market Europe to GCC tourists. It found that destinations should focus on promoting specific tourism products and develop pan-European themes to attract tourists looking to visit multiple destinations.

ETC President Peter de Wilde said: “The GCC nations remain a growing source market for European destinations, which should themselves capitalise on the potential of a younger, value-driven, well-informed and technology-savvy GCC traveller.”