The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), consisting of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain, has been elevated as ST’s designated priority market. The team is operating from offices in Dubai and the newly established Antenna in Riyadh. 

Directory

  1. Know the basics
  2. Bi-monthly market update
  3. Localized annual plan 2024

Know the basics

AddressSwitzerland Tourism
Jumeirah Lake Towers (Cluster Y)
Swiss Tower, Office 3602, P.O. Box 309059
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Market ManagerLivio Goetz, Director GCC
Contact+971 523746163
livio.goetz@switzerland.com
LinkedInwww.linkedin.com/in/livio-goetz-56780663/

Meet the Team

The 6 team members based in the GCC work primarily out of Dubai, with one based in Riyadh.

The team

Tawfik Melli, Marketing & Media Manager GCC
Contact

LinkedIn
+971 506556927
tawfik.melli@switzerland.com
www.linkedin.com/in/tawfik-melli-a952a176/
Majed Alwadi, Manager Saudi Arabia
Contact

LinkedIn
+966 507750229
majed.alwadi@switzerland.com
www.linkedin.com/in/majed-alwadi-a94059167/
Elias Sabella, Digital & Production Manager GCC
Contact

LinkedIn
+971 502401910
elias.sabella@switzerland.com
www.linkedin.com/in/eliassabella/
Gioia Valli, Head of Health Tourism GCC
Contact

LinkedIn
+971 505579411
gioia.valli@switzerland.com
www.linkedin.com/in/gioia-valli-2a6b19b5/
Mathilde Lue, Project Manager GCC
Contact

LinkedIn
+971 525935143
mathilde.lue@switzerland.com
www.linkedin.com/in/mathildelue/

Research and reports

  • ST market research page –– here
  • ST Research Report 2023 –– Download here
  • ST TMS 2017 –– Download here

Market activities

Last updated: 01/02/2024 by LV

Market update and reporting of finalized activities 2023

Localized annual plan 2024

Last updated: 01/02/2024 by LV

Market Situation

The perception of Switzerland as a travel destination is highly favorable among the general population in the GCC. The travel habits of GCC guests show no signs of disruption despite the conflict in Gaza/Israel and ongoing tensions in the Red Sea region. A significant issue, however, lies visa challenges which persist across GCC countries, primarily characterised by prolonged waiting times to secure appointments and recent changes in the various visa sections at Embassies.

Despite the positive performance of the GCC market, with nearly 800,000 overnights in January to November 2023, the results fell slightly short of expectations. The summer months experienced a decline due to the perceived heat in Switzerland and Europe, along with visa-related challenges. However, the numbers rebounded in autumn, particularly in September and October, offsetting the earlier summer losses and contributing to the overall resilience of the market.

Heading into 2024, ST holds a cautiously optimistic outlook, considering positive economic conditions. However, various challenges could influence overnight development and travel behavior. ST GCC, with our office in Dubai and an Antenna in Riyadh, are preparing for an exciting year, marking the elevation of the GCC as a priority market.

Economy

In 2023, the global economy faced a slower growth rate marked by high interest rates, inflation, and geopolitical tensions. Despite these challenges, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries demonstrated remarkable resilience. The oil sector experienced a 2.8% contraction due to OPEC+’s successive oil production cuts, yet the non-oil sector expanded by an estimated 4.3% in 2023. This growth was propelled by government investments aligned with diverse economic agendas across the GCC, reducing the overall impact and resulting in an estimated 1.5% GDP growth for the region in 2023, following a robust 7.9% growth in 2022.

Looking forward, there is cause for optimism regarding the economic performance of GCC countries, given their dedication to economic diversification and their adaptability to evolving market conditions. This optimism is fueled by the upward trend in global oil demand and prices, which have been on the rise since the summer.

In recent years, our largest GCC market, Saudi Arabia has witnessed substantial economic growth, especially driven by ambitious initiatives and reforms outlined in its Vision 2030 program. This strategic vision aims to position the Kingdom among the world’s most frequented visitors destinations.

Likewise, our second-largest market, the UAE, defies global uncertainties and challenges and expects a remarkable economic performance in 2024. This is mainly due to their well-balanced policies, such as the strengthening of the non-oil sector and its positioning as the leader in innovation and technology. 

Travel industry

In the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, the structure of the travel agency sector has experienced minimal changes, remaining highly fragmented within the GCC. In each GCC country, different travel agency chains dominate the market. It is evident, that many small companies have opened over the last two years. Many of them have premium business, however, they are small in booking volume. In terms of tour operators, notably there are no traditional TO’s with a Swiss product present.

While the major chains create ad-hoc packages for their branch offices, there is scarce resale to independent agents. The majority of business revolves around individually designed FIT bookings.

Some agents, particularly in Dubai, specialising in Indian customers, also provide traditional group trip options. Arabic travel agency chains typically have affiliations with an Arab extended family or a tribe, but are predominantly managed by Indian GMs. There is a lack of specialisation in the market, both in terms of destinations and business areas (Corporate, MICE, FIT), as well as customer segments. 

Saudi Arabia and Oman are also undergoing a process of Saudi- and Omanization, extending beyond the travel industry and gaining momentum. Consequently, there is a notable influx of new staff, many of whom currently lack a substantial understanding of Switzerland. Observably, there are particularly many new female travel agents in Saudi.  Numerous Saudi Arabian offices now operate from locations such as Egypt, and there is an increasing prevalence of call centres being established there.

Two additional developments are currently impacting Switzerland. Firstly, since the availability of Booking.com in Arabic, there has been a substantial surge in bookings. Secondly, there is a shift from hotel bookings towards holiday apartments, influenced by Booking.com and the range of holiday apartments it offers without adhering to the traditional 7-day Sat/Sat booking rule. While the proportion of bookings from platforms like Booking.com and other online travel agencies (OTAs) is expected to rise, the classic travel agency will remain crucial for the Swiss market.

Affluent families are likely to continue relying on travel agencies for their „tribe,“ making it challenging to fulfil specific requests, such as connecting doors, additional beds, last-minute changes, maid’s rooms, etc., through online bookings.

Travel behavior

Travellers from GCC countries show a strong inclination for frequent travel, despite the crisis in Gaza/Israel and the Red Sea. Despite the recent stagnation in observed ON figures over the past few months, it emphasizes the unwavering desire of the local population to travel. Switzerland, known for its exceptional safety, cleanliness, and positive image, is in an advantageous position. We anticipate a continuation of this trend into 2024 and aim to surpass the 2022 travel levels by 5-10%.

In general, Arabs prefer to travel as part of larger family groups, often consisting of up to 15 people. They frequently opt for rented cars, exploring various locations in Switzerland and Europe. A green environment, a lake, and a city with diverse shopping and entertainment options top their wish list. Demand is high for exciting yet not overly strenuous activities like paragliding and summer toboggan runs.

Another significant group of visitors comprises young honeymooners, with luxury hotels in Switzerland being a highly sought-after holiday destination. There is a growing demand for winter holidays, both among Arabs and Western expats. While Western expats traditionally return to their home countries in the summer, they are increasingly open to exploring new destinations during the winter.

Indian expats, constituting a substantial proportion in all GCC countries (over 35% in the UAE), often travel as families. Train and group travel, along with mountain railway experiences such as touching snow, are particularly appealing to these guests, even though they are less popular with Arabs.

While the concepts of „sustainability“ and „conscious travel“ are frequently discussed in the GCC, initiatives announced by the Sheikhs have only been partially embraced by the local population. Many are not yet willing to spend extra money on these initiatives, in contrast to their strong affinity for the „normal“ nature experience. Green nature remains the primary travel motivator in the GCC.

Personas

The GCC market focuses primarily on the persona Lou, Max, Quinn and Pat. Find more information about the persona here.  

Key Performance Indicators

Final 2023Budget 2024
Bed nights hotelscoming sooncoming soon
Turnover Total (CHF)coming sooncoming soon
Growth 2023 – 2024%%
Campaigning & Activation*
·      Top-Marketing Contacts155’843’040140’000’000
·      Customer reactions409’346370’000
·      Tracked Sessions on MyS.com per year793’837750’000
·      Engagement Rate on MyS.com59.60%60%
·      Engagement Rate on Social Media1.33%1.33%
Media work (KMM)*
·      Top-Coverage articles5860
·      Top-Coverage media contacts40’776’50050’000’000
·      Qualified Interactions with KMM78100
Trade (KAM)*
·      Influenced overnight with tour operators 207’500220’000
·      Influenced revenue with tour operators 87’150’00092’400’000
·      Specific group and FIT packages11080
·      Qualified Interactions with KAM1’0361’200
Partner cooperations
·      Investments tourism partners1’033’000932’700