The UAE ranked 28th in this year’s global index for travel and tourism competitiveness

— inching up two spots from the previous year ranking of 30 [among 139 countries] — making it the top performer in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

Globally, top slot was occupied by Switzerland, followed by Germany and Austria, according to the recently released Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report, ranking 140 countries according to their attractiveness and ability to develop their travel and tourism industries.

Issued by the World Economic Forum, in co-operation with Booz & Company, the biennial report stated that UAE continues to lead the Mena region thanks to rich cultural resources and a slew of international fairs and exhibitions. “Despite the impact on natural resources, the country has managed to build a thriving travel and tourism industry. It is also a world-class international hub for global air travel,” George Atalla, Partner with Booz & Company, said in a statement.

This year’s report was published under the theme “Reducing Barriers to Economic Growth and Job Creation”.

Dubai alone welcomed a record 10 million plus visitors in 2012, according to the recent statistics released by the Department of Commerce and Tourism Marketing (DTCM).

Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, received 2.3 million visitors last year and targets to attract 2.5 million visitors this year, according to the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi).

The report further projects that the average growth of the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to the UAE’s gross domestic product (GDP) will be over 8.1 per cent annually during the period from 2011 to 2020. And that the demand for jobs in the tourism sector will grow by 5.7 per cent per year until 2020.

The UAE ranking was followed by Qatar (ranked 41), which saw business tourism gain significantly owing to the economic boom, according to Antoine Nasr, Senior Associate at Booz & Company. “Qatar’s ability to offer tourists a safe and secure environment compounded with its role as a transport hub has significantly enhanced its travel and tourism competitiveness,” he said.

Bahrain, meanwhile, fell 15 places since the 2011 assessment, ranking fourth in the region owing to “security concerns”, according to the report. It stated that however, the country maintains a number of clear strengths such as an evolved transport infrastructure, skilled human resources and strong price competiveness.

Lebanon, meanwhile, ranked 8th in the region and 69th overall with a number of cultural attributes, including five World Heritage cultural sites and some creative industries, the report stated, adding that Egypt, ranked 10th regionally, dropping 10 positions in the global assessment to reach 85th overall, as a result of the continuing unrest in the country.