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The Future of Circular Tourism in the Middle East Explored in a Report by the Economist The Future of Circular Tourism in the Middle East Explored in a Report by the Economist

The Future of Circular Tourism in the Middle East Explored in a Report by the Economist

In 2022, international travel and tourism has continued to recover as the world reopens and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Globally, international tourist arrivals increased by 130 percent in January 2022 compared to January 2021, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNTWO), and within the Middle East region, tourism now accounts for nearly nine percent of GDP.

However, whilst increased tourism is generally seen as positive for the region, it also brings growing concerns around the environmental impact of greater carbon emissions, more waste being generated, and higher use of resources. “In Transit: Pathways to Circular Tourism in the Middle East”, a recently launched report by the Economist Impact, supported by the Qatar-based Earthna Center for a Sustainable Future, tackles the issue of sustainable tourism by exploring the challenges the region faces and the positive impacts of adopting a circular economy across the industry.

Circularity principles provide a framework for sustainable growth by bringing together stakeholders from across the industry to implement lasting change, driven by a focus on adapting consumer and supplier behavior, and recycling and regenerating resources in response to the high consumption and waste levels that the hospitality industry is prone to.

The report identifies a variety of factors which are imperative to establishing circular tourism with any kind of scale or impact in the Middle East, with perhaps the most important being driving cross-sector collaboration and securing strategic commitment from all stakeholders in the industry. However, across much of the region, there is a marked lack of sustainability mandates set by governments, think tanks, and the industry itself to encourage better ways of working.

To achieve transformation in the sector, circular tourism models with a focus on environmental, social, economic and cultural dimensions is vital. However, embedding circular tourism practices will require setting clear targets, adopting and enforcing policy tools, and cascading strategies from the national and industry level down to businesses and franchises.

Reducing consumption and waste is also another priority, including encouraging the use of public transportation and cutting down on single use plastics. Businesses should be empowered to develop bespoke waste management systems, based on the unique needs of their services. Optimising performance in areas such as energy and water usage, and waste management can be achieved through adopting better individual practices, driven by stricter requirements at the national level.

Supply chain localisation is an important way to help tackle carbon emissions, while simultaneously benefitting local communities and industries. Localization reduces industry reliance on imported goods by enabling and encouraging the purchase of local produce, although businesses can also reduce carbon use by prioritizing goods that have certified low emissions.

Another key component in ensuring the success of circular economic practices is collecting data and monitoring the progress of sustainability initiatives, including overall consumption and waste patterns. Third-party certification of sustainability measures can also aid in overall monitoring efforts. These steps will enable individual businesses, and the wider industry, to make data-driven sustainable choices and set specific sustainability targets.

Ultimately, the tourism industry in the Middle East is still in the early stages of its sustainability journey. It faces a set of unique challenges, including hot climates and reliance on cheap fossil fuel, but through strategic commitment, cross-stakeholder collaboration and long-term planning, providers of transport, accommodation, hospitality, and entertainment can transition to practices which support a circular economic model, managing the environmental impact of the industry as a whole while creating new avenues for growth where local communities and culture are crucial contributors to sustainable and circular tourism.