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Robust US$18 billion religious tourism market critical to short-term revenue generation

( DUBAI, UAE - While deteriorating global economic conditions look certain to dent the Middle East’s immediate inbound tourism growth, the burgeoning religious tourism sector – valued at US$18 billion per year - can play a decisive role in driving the region’s short-term industry revenues, said Kevin J. Wright, president, World Religious Travel Association (WRTA).

The Middle East is already the world’s largest driver of religious travel, tourism, and hospitality, with the sector fuelling the region’s current annual tourism growth of 11 percent per annum.

However, Wright insists specialist travel providers need to develop the best possible travel experiences to leverage income from the three billion people around the world who trace their religious roots and faiths to the Middle East.

“Religious tourism is recognized as one of the most resilient markets in the travel industry,” said Wright, who will conduct a seminar entitled ‘The New Era of Religious Tourism’ at May’s Arabian Travel Market - the Middle East’s premier travel and tourism event.

“Pilgrimages are not the sole driver of the religious market anymore, and people of faith are increasingly seeking greater quality travel experiences across the full spectrum of sub-sectors which drive the industry,” he said.

“With more than 300 million global travllers annually, the faith-based travel and hospitality market provides destination management organizations, wholesalers, suppliers, and travel agents unprecedented opportunities for new business avenues and clientele,” added Wright.

Saudi Arabia is the market’s primary driver, with the Islamic Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages seeing the kingdom receive over six million worshipers annually.

“In Saudi Arabia alone, the religious tourism industry generates an estimated US$7 billion annually and with the market expecting 20 percent growth in the coming years, tour operators, hotels, and airlines are already tailoring products to tap into the religious market,” said Wright.

However, he also identified Jordan and Palestine as growth markets: “Ninety-five percent of tourism in Palestine is religion-based, while Jordan is targeting tourism revenues of up to US$2.4 billion, per year, by 2010 – over 60 percent higher than income generated in 2007.”

Iraq is also emerging as a serious player in the sector. Areas of religious significance, such as Najaf - home of the sacred shrine of the son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) – already welcomes eight million pilgrims a year, but a new airport will increase inbound capacity to over 20 million.

“Investment must not only be married to existing opportunities, it needs to be focused on surrounding infrastructures to ensure the increased visitors experience quality services at affordable prices,” said Wright.

Citing Abu Dhabi as an example of how feeder destinations can benefit from mass pilgrimages to Saudi, Iraq, and other holy sites, Wright added, “Abu Dhabi International Airport handled nearly 15,000 Hajjes last year, which increased its passenger traffic rates to Saudi Arabia by 34.5 percent – the potential for everyone in the region to benefit is astounding.”

Mark Walsh, group exhibition director, Reed Travel Exhibitions - organizer of Arabian Travel Market, which takes place from May 5-8, 2009 at the Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre - said the need to examine robust tourism revenue streams would be critical in ensuring the industry weathers the current economic downturn.

“Our industry is changing, and tour operators and travel companies need to examine alternative business avenues to increase profits during these challenging times. The religious tourism market is one such possibility and remains extremely relevant to Middle East-based operations. Through these informed discussion sessions, exhibitors and visitors alike can better understand the business potential available to them.”

Wright is the latest speaker to be announced for Arabian Travel Market 2009’s expanded seminar program, which will cover a wide-range of key trends and issues during the 16 sessions planned for the four-day event.

Boasting a strong line-up of industry leaders, the seminars will examine trends such as the global cruise industry, its market potential and development of the cruise sector in Gulf region; recruitment and retention best practice in the hospitality sector; the outlook for the Gulf meetings industry; and the future of air travel in the Middle East.

The online portal for Arabian Travel Market can be found at Signing up early will allow visitors to take advantage of extensive e-networking tools that will allow them to link up with the most relevant industry players to their business.

Arabian Travel Market is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai, and under the auspices of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Government of Dubai.

Visitor registration for Arabian Travel Market 2009 can be done through the show’s dedicated website on

For further information: Sam Dulka, MCS/Action, Dubai, UAE; Tel: + 971 4 390 2960; Fax: +9714 390 8161; Email: href=""> or visit the show online at:

About Arabian Travel Market:

Arabian Travel Market was launched in 1994, and the 2008 event – which marked the show’s 15th anniversary – opened with its largest ever exhibitor base of 2,229 participants from 70 countries.

In addition, floorspace bookings from international representatives in Asia, the Americas, Europe, and Africa had grown by 10 percent, with Middle East companies increasing their allocation by five percent.

The 2008 show also boasted close to 90 new-to-market exhibitors, as well as increased space uptake from over 62 national tourist bodies with products and services representing 70 countries, including show debutants Bangladesh, The Philippines, Djibouti, Georgia, Senegal, and Nepal.

The event’s signature awards scheme, the New Frontiers Awards, will be staged for the fourth time in 2009. Presented to a destination that has made a remarkable recovery and positive contribution to tourism development in the face of the overwhelming adversity, the award, which is chosen by a panel of judges consisting of regional and international industry professionals, is one of the show’s highlights.

Arabian Travel Market is part of the Reed Travel Exhibitions’ portfolio, which includes 15 of the world’s leading travel industry events. For more information visit

Dina Fouad
Phone: 00971507810654

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