As emerging markets develop new attractions and tap into new visitor source markets, they are leveraging technology and sustainable development in line with emissions targets. Following sharp declines in 2020, international tourism figures rebounded in 2021 to reach approximately 63% of pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels in 2022. Notably, in September of that year arrivals in the Middle East and the Caribbean surpassed 2019 levels by 3% and 1%, respectively.
The recovery in travel demand is projected to create 126m jobs globally over 2022-32, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), with more than 60% of those jobs in the Asia-Pacific region. The lifting of travel restrictions in China and Japan at the end of 2022 will likely fuel an uptick in activity in the region. South-east Asia in particular is set to benefit from an increase in demand from China, which was the world’s largest outbound tourism market in 2019.
Many countries sought to boost domestic tourism numbers as international source markets were cut off by pandemic-related travel restrictions. As international tourism numbers rebound, some governments are pursuing reforms to create more equitable tourism sectors. In St Lucia, for example, where tourism accounts for some 65% of GDP, the Community Tourism Agency was launched in November 2022, with a mandate to increase local participation.
Such policies often aim to support micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) – which make up an estimated 80% of the sector globally, according to the WTTC – while also providing more authentic experiences for a new generation of visitors. In Thailand, the Ministry of Labour has rolled out measures to support students working part-time in the hospitality industry and provide tourism-related training for the unemployed, hoping to address a labour shortage as the country prepares to welcome 25m visitors in 2023. Prior to the pandemic, tourism activities, both domestic and foreign, accounted for 18% of the country’s GDP. Africa’s tourism sector, meanwhile, is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 6.8% in the decade leading up to 2032, more than twice the expected rate for the continent, according to WTTC data, in addition to creating 14m new jobs by 2032.
Private sector actors are also involved in efforts to develop the tourism industry. Purple Elephant Ventures, a Kenya-based venture studio, was founded in 2020 with the goal of building four start-ups per year, with a focus on firms working at the intersection of technology, climate and tourism. During the pandemic the studio launched a software-as-a-service product that allowed hospitality providers to take direct online bookings, and it raised $1m in a pre-seed funding round in late 2022.
Tourism is an important part of economic diversification efforts in the Middle East, and a number of high-profile projects are seeking to boost arrivals in the region. Saudi Arabia has centred its goals for the sector around Saudi Vision 2030, with an ambitious target to attract 100m domestic and foreign tourists by 2030. In January 2023 the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund designated Diriyah as its fifth giga-project. Encompassing the Turaif district, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the project is intended to educate visitors on the history of the country.
Egypt is also hoping to reinvigorate its tourism industry. Tourism revenue is set to rise by 20% to a record $13.6bn in 2023, according to projections from data and research firm Fitch Solutions. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities aims to attract 30m tourists by 2028, and the government is preparing to launch a new strategy for the sector in 2023.
Beyond conventional tourism initiatives, Egypt is pushing the use of metaverse technology to promote the medical tourism segment. According to Ahmed El Sobky, chairman of the General Authority for Health Care, the use of 3D virtual-reality software will allow prospective patients to tour health care centres remotely in governorates such as Luxor and Port Said.