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REGIONS MIDDLE EAST & AFRICA


Tourism rebirth: Mr Inzerillo is chief executive of an authority restoring the Diriyah Gate in Saudi Arabia


Rebooting tourism T


JERRY INZERILLO, TOURISM INDUSTRY VETERAN, DISCUSSES THE FUTURE OF POST-PANDEMIC TRAVEL WITH WENDY ATKINS


he departure boards of the world’s air- ports have made for grim reading over the past year, bringing home the sheer


impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the travel and tourism sector. As vaccines are rolled out worldwide, there is a glimmer of hope for the industry. But, according to Jerry Inzerillo, industry veteran and chief executive of Diriyah Gate Development Authority — a $20bn-plus giga-project aimed at restoring and reimagin- ing the ancestral home of the original Saudi state—we are about to see a new wave of travel. Having devoted more than 50 years to tour-


ism, Mr Inzerillo has seen it all. “This is the one sector of the global economy that’s always provedresilient,”hesays. “LastMarch, I thought it would be a very bumpy six to 12 months. We’ve always overcome obstacles andwewill do so again. But it’s turned out to be substantially more difficult than anyone thought.”


Optimisticmood In spite of the pain of the crisis, Mr Inzerillo remains optimistic. “People definitely want to travel. [The post-pandemic world] will ignite a new wave of travel, but we may not go back to some of the trends that were building momen- tum before Covid-19.” Mr Inzerillo believes that youth travel and


women travelling together will both feature strongly in the new tourism landscape. “Authentic, cultural, heritage travel will come back in a very big way,” he adds. However, he thinks it will be a while before


those aged over 55 willembark on trips ofmore than 10 hours. “Not knowing the medical infra- structure of counties is more of a concern if there’s a problem of howto get home,” he adds.


Travel changes “It will probably take many years for people to get back to visiting multiple countries in a fixed period of time,” he adds. “People will go to one


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city, to one country, and stay longer. In the next two to five years, the average length of stay will go up a full day. In the top 30 travel destination countries, the average length of stay will go up three days.” Mr Inzerillo points out that less mature


tourismdestinations have fared better than tra- ditional favourites during the pandemic. He reveals that Saudi Arabia was opened to inter- national tourism in September 2019 and was processing around 55,000 eVisas per week before the Covid-19 shutdown. “Countries that were just starting out, or had immature tour- ism profiles, weren’t hurt so much because they didn’t have asmuch ground to lose.”


Closer tohome Mr Inzerillo says his approach has been to implement a conservative marketing strategy of targeting the local market first, before wid- ening it to regional and international markets. “The Gulf countries have boomed because


their citizens stayed home. Our restaurants and hotel occupancy registered record levels. Saudis are one of the highest spenders outside their owncountry. Saudis have stayedhome, and this has been true of thewhole Gulf region.” Looking ahead, Mr Inzerillo says policy-


makers have recognised the growth potential of tourism for local economies. “Most govern- ments now have tourism as one of their top portfolios. In Saudi Arabia, the strategy is to take it from 3% to 10% of gross domestic prod- uct,” he explains. “Governmentshave to focusontourismstrat-


egies. They can’t ignore sustainability, socioeco- nomic inequality, the positivity of employment and the benefits of foreign currency exchange, and the goodwill thatcomes with tourism. Most heads of state now know they have to support their travel and airline industries, and get peo- ple to visit because these are the best generators of immediateemployment.”■


www.fDiIntelligence.com April/May 2021


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