The UAE has been named the most competitive economy for developing its travel and tourism sector in the Middle East and North Africa but still has areas to improve, according to a new report.
The World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism (T&T) Competitiveness Report 2017 ranked the UAE 29th globally, well ahead of its nearest regional challenger Qatar (47th).
The report said the UAE's performance continues to improve, with its score rising 1.4 percent since 2015.
Despite these improvements, the country fell by a few positions in the rankings, due to exceptional performances of countries in other regions, in particular, South Korea and Greece.
The report said the UAE continues to offer an outstanding business environment to invest in T&T activities (5th), with advanced ICT readiness (15th) and one of the best air transport infrastructures in the world (3rd), in terms of both connectivity and quality of the service.
It is also one of the most secure destinations (2nd), and has a well-developed hospitality and entertainment infrastructure (27th).
However, it added that to improve its competitiveness further, the UAE should focus on becoming more open (75th), expanding its health facilities, and making better use of its natural resources (91st).
"While the UAE has significantly developed certain segments of cultural tourism, including international conferences and car racing, natural tourism remains an untapped resource for the country," the report noted.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, Bahrain was ranked 60th, Saudi Arabia 63rd, Oman 66th while Kuwait was the worst performer, placed 100th out of a total of 136 economies covered in the study.
Yemen was named as the worst country in the world for travel and tourism while Spain, France and Germany topped the rankings.
The report said there are large discrepancies in the region, making the Middle East and North Africa the least homogeneous region.
For example, while some countries rank low on security indicators, countries such as Oman, the UAE, and Qatar rank among the 10 safest economies globally, with little terrorism incidence.
Similarly, there are stark differences on business environment, ICT readiness and the quality of infrastructure between the top five countries in the region - the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Israel, and Saudi Arabia - that perform very well, and the other 10 less developed economies.
There are also significant variations in country performance across the region compared to the 2015 edition. Starting from different levels, Bahrain, Iran, Morocco and Algeria have all improved their security significantly, while Saudi Arabia has registered the largest regional improvement in health and hygiene.
Similarly, while there are countries such as Egypt and Kuwait that have increased T&T sector prioritisation, others, such as Qatar and Yemen, that have not.
Even within areas where there has been an overall improvement, there are substantial differences in the region. For instance, Egypt, Oman, and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia have upgraded their cultural resources significantly more than the regional average, while Bahrain and Tunisia have proceeded faster towards openness compared to the other countries in the area.
Globally, the top three in the ranking – Spain, France and Germany – have secured their position thanks to world-class natural and cultural resources, outstanding infrastructure and hospitality services, the report said.
Traditional strong travel and tourism destinations, including Japan (fourth), the United Kingdom (fifth), the United States (sixth, down two places), Australia (seventh), Italy (eighth), Canada (ninth) and Switzerland (10th), have also made it in the top 10.
While advanced economies still hold the top spots in the ranking, 12 of the top 15 most improved countries are emerging markets, with Asia’s as exponents. Asia’s largest markets are not only becoming larger source markets but also more attractive destinations, the report added.