The explosive economic growth of the Gulf nations in the past hundred years has largely been driven by the region’s oil reserves, shaping both the coffers and perceptions of Middle Eastern nations. Yet with rising global competition from nations such as Russia and the US, and the recent volatility in oil prices, Gulf and other Middle Eastern nations are increasingly looking to diversify their economic offerings. While the past economic drivers were rooted in the ground, the future economic driver can be found in the opposite place—the skies.
Evidence of this future is apparent at the Dubai Airshow. The 2013 Airshow was the largest ever and boasted an order book of over $206 billion of new planes. “Over the past ten years, Middle Eastern airlines have spearheaded growth in the region. They have extended their presence to five continents, enabling air traffic to grow twice as fast as the economy,” says Andrew Gordon, Director Strategic Marketing and Analysis for Airbus. Airbus manufactures three of the most sought after planes in the industry: The A380, the largest capacity passenger aircraft in the world, and the A350 XWB and A330neo, two of the most energy efficient mid-size airliners.
With over 130 airports, the Middle East is already one of the globe’s main transport hubs—a perfect gateway between East and West. Yet Gordon says, despite its status as the global leader in connecting flights, it’s a gross misunderstanding to think of the Middle East as solely a fly-through destination.
“Leisure and business travel make an ever-increasing contribution to the GDP of most countries in the Middle East region,” he says. “The thriving economies of many regional nations offer huge opportunities for trade and commerce while the natural, historic and modern man-made tourist attractions of the great cities of the region are top of the agenda for destination marketers.”
The economic potential of tourism has led to unprecedented investment in new airports to meet the growing travel demand. As reported in Airbus’ latest Global Market Forecast, while there are currently only four Middle Eastern aviation mega cities (cities visited by more than 10,000 international long-haul air passengers per day), that number will increase a staggering 150% to 10 mega cities in just two decades. The growth of these mega cities means that the region will need nearly 2,500 new aircraft deliveries, just to keep pace.
Aviation supports 2.3 million jobs in the region and contributes over $200 billion to the collective Middle Eastern GDP. But the aviation industry isn’t the only benefactor. “The indirect benefit derived from increased travel through Middle East aviation hubs filters through to all areas of the local and regional community,” says Gordon.
Gordon also notes that increased travel has ancillary benefits including facilitation of greater understanding between the many communities that call the Middle East home. “Barriers are broken down and we all benefit from sharing our unique cultures with our neighbors,” he says.
And of course there is the benefit to regional tourism. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, international tourist arrivals in the Middle East grew 5%, or 3 million people in 2014, to a total of 51 million tourists for the year.
“The future is bright for the Middle East Airline industry as the region is not only an increasingly attractive destination for business and leisure travelers, but is firmly establishing itself as the gateway between East and West,” says Gordon, who notes that Airbus’ order book and latest Global Market Forecast show that demand for all types of passenger aircraft is growing and that this growth trajectory will continue well into the next two decades.
“Combine with this with the region’s growing economies, a desire to increase economic and tourism links with the rest of the world–not to mention an increasing desire from within the Middle East to travel,” says Gordon. “Everything looks set for more growth to come.”
This article was produced on behalf of Airbus by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.