UNWTO’s Middle East office sets its goals

MADRID, 17 March 2022: UNWTO and Saudi Arabia have agreed on steps they will jointly take to turn tourism into a driver of growth, opportunity and development across the Middle East.

Less than a year after the official opening of the UNWTO regional office for the Middle East based in Riyadh, key projects have been identified, signalling closer cooperation between UNWTO and Saudi Arabia.

Meeting in Madrid earlier this week, UNWTO secretary-general Pololikashvili and Saudi Minister for Tourism Ahmed Aqeel AlKhateeb agreed to further advance their shared vision and committed to working closely together to fulfil the sector’s potential across the region.

The regional office will introduce UNWTO Global Tourism and Rural Development Programme’s Best Tourism Villages initiative, now in its second year.

In addition, the office will focus on knowledge creation for policy and business practices, training and skills development and technical assistance on the ground, with plans also in place to establish a first Tourism and Rural Development Observatory in Riyadh.

UNWTO will support Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to embrace digitalisation with partnerships with the largest technology companies such as Amadeus, Mastercard, Cisco, Telefónica, amongst others already established. The UNWTO Digital Futures Programme aims to provide training on connectivity, e-commerce, big data and analytics, and online payments and security to as many as 20,000 SMEs in 22 countries, including 5,000 in the first year.


A new UNWTO Knowledge Lab will be launched from Riyadh, while the first Observatory on Quality of Tourism Education and Jobs will also be established. Ten new online courses will be made available in Arabic through the UNWTO Tourism Online Academy, and UNWTO will also work with higher education providers from the region through the new Tourism Faculty Development Programme.

Green investments for green transitions

There are plans in place to make the regional office for the Middle East a hub for promoting green investments in the tourism sector, including through projects developed in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and other partners such as the Saudi Tourism Development Fund (TDF) – responding to the UNWTO climate action framework, outlined in the Glasgow Declaration, launched at COP26.