The Emergency Meeting for the Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism Discusses Challenges in the Tourism Sector due to the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

​​​The Emergency Meeting for the Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism Discusses Challenges in the Tourism Sector due to the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic 

The emergency meeting for the Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism was held on Wednesday June 17, 2020 with the presidency of Saudi Arabia and the participation of Arab tourism ministers and relevant international organisations. The meeting, which was held remotely with the chairmanship of His Excellency Minister of Tourism Mr Ahmed bin Aqil Al Khateeb, aimed at discussing the challenges faced by the region in the tourism sector due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.  

His Excellency Mr Ahmed bin Aqil Al Khateeb pointed out that the Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism held the session under exceptional circumstances to discuss means to overcome this pandemic and stimulate the tourism sector. 

His Excellency the minister said: “The government of the Kingdom has taken the initiative to offer a set of activities for financial stimulation with a value that exceeds $61 billion to preserve jobs and businesses and alleviate the economic burdens of the crisis, which benefited the local tourism sector as one of the important economic sectors, including subsidising 60 per cent of the salaries of Saudi employees in the private sector for three months.”

The Kingdom has also provided free healthcare to all people suffering from coronavirus symptoms regardless their nationalities or the status of their visas, in addition to taking flexible procedures to help those who planned to visit the Kingdom before the outbreak of the crisis and extending their tourist visas.

Externally, His Excellency Mr Ahmed Al Khateeb noted that the Kingdom has been among the first countries that took the initiative to work jointly with regional and international organisations to face the crisis and present the necessary support, where it offered a support of $500 million to the World Health Organisation to assist international efforts aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

He also noted that the Kingdom, in its capacity as chair of the G20, has sought to enhance international efforts to support the tourism sector, where, in this regard, an extraordinary meeting was held under the presidency of the Kingdom in April, to go over the negative impacts that affected the tourism sector as a result of the crisis and the requirements to revive the sector through providing proper procedures to guarantee the safety of tourists and work jointly with other governments and international organisations to merge the travel and tourism sector in economic recovery programmes. 

In his speech, Al Khateeb​ said that the biggest challenge in this phase lies in two matters: first, addressing the direct outcomes of the crisis and, the second, ensuring regaining the confidence in the tourism sector, stressing that this challenge requires joint coordination and action among Arab countries with providing the highest health standards for safe travel and focusing on services that make tourists feel safe and benefiting from international expertise in this field. 

The communique of the Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism praised the efforts implemented by Arab countries in contain the spread of the virus, prioritising the health of their subjects, and adopting several procedures to speed up the recovery period from the negative impacts on the tourism sector. In this regard, the council highlighted the importance of implementing relevant complementary steps, where the communique identified several recommendations to continue Arab efforts in facing the negative consequences imposed by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, including: cooperation among member Arab countries to coordinate efforts and lifting travel restriction through several stages with taking into consideration the necessary precautions.

The recommendations also reiterated the significance of guaranteeing the health and safety of employees of the tourism and travel sector, and coordinating efforts to support efforts aimed at reaching the comprehensive recovery of the tourism sector.

Also, they called for providing a safe travel environment that can help in rebuilding confidence among tourists, encouraging tourism and attracting international tourists once the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic ends. 

The statement also called on Arab countries to refer to reports, data analyses and recommendations issued in this regard, and benefiting from remote training programmes that have been prepared by the Arab Tourism Organisation in cooperation with several universities, which target employees of the tourism sector. 

The statement commended the efforts exerted by the UNWTO, stressing the need to further enhance cooperation with the organisation to ensure a better exchange of the best practices that countries adopted to contribute to the recovery of economies from the negative impacts of the pandemic and supporting the work of crisis committees affiliated with the UNWTO, including: the revival and recovery plan, technical assistance packs, the world tourism information regulations of the UNWTO, other initiatives to counter the pandemic and providing the organisation with the recommendations of Arab countries. 

Other endeavours include enhancing the cooperation with the private sector to minimise the impact consequences in the tourism and travel sector, preserving jobs in the sector and boosting the use of modern technologies in creating jobs, mainly in most affected sectors, such as the aviation industry and helping the companies of the tourism sector, especially the micro and small- and medium-sized enterprises, and business entrepreneurs overcome the crisis and adapt and flourish in the post-crisis phase.

The Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism concluded its communique with affirming the importance of coordinating efforts among various government sectors in Arab countries to support their respective economies, adopting polices necessary to speed up the recovery process from the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic and preserving the gains of the tourism sector.