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Regional Handicraft Markets Spurred by Focus on Middle East Culture

13 Nov 2022

Gifts & Lifestyle Middle East, which runs from November 15-17, serves as an unmatched platform for buyers and retailers to source products

Dubai, UAE: The increasing focus of Middle Eastern governments on preserving and promoting local traditions is spurring growth throughout the region’s handicraft markets, which are predicted to receive a 7.2 per cent annual revenue boost over the next five years.

The forecast comes in a new report from 6Wresearch produced for Gifts & Lifestyle Middle East, which says that by 2028, the Middle East handicraft market could be worth a combined total of US$3.9 billion.

The report points to the focus of regional governments on the promotion of local traditions, art, and culture as a sector growth engine, citing the efforts of organisations such as the Abu Dhabi Register of Artisans, Abu Dhabi Crafts Platform, the Saudi Heritage Commission for Craftsmanship, and the Kingdom’s National Handicraft Programme.

Yet while government initiatives have helped accelerate the sector, other factors have contributed to the growth, according to the report, namely the region’s expanding hospitality and tourism sectors and rising disposable income. Having been negatively impacted by the fall in tourism arrivals during the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector is now bouncing back.

“The Middle East handicraft market is expected to grow to 2028 owing to an increase in the region’s tourism industry GDP which is forecast to reach US$486 billion by 2028 and a rise in investments in the industry,” says the report. “For instance, Saudi Arabia aims to attract US$1 trillion in capital investment in the travel and tourism sector by 2030. Furthermore, the economic recovery induced by government relief packages and the relaxation of restrictions on travel tourism in the Middle East coupled with a rise in e-commerce is expected to drive the market for handicrafts in Middle Eastern countries.”

While Türkiye is the undoubted regional handicraft market leader with a 40.1 per cent share, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are making their mark with double-digit market share and annual growth predicted. Artistic metalware leads the market accounting for around 28 per cent of all sales on the back of strong demand from the residential and hospitality sector. The hospitality sector is still in the sales vanguard with Saudi Arabia’s National Handicraft Programme entering into an agreement with 11 of the Kingdom’s leading hotels to promote local handicrafts and utilise the production of around 500 Saudi artisans.

Major retailers are expected to remain a key sector distribution channel with online retailers picking up the pace. 

The success of the sector though, says the report, will be in the hands of artisans. “Sector sellers could increase their market share through intensive market research, product innovation improvement in quality, and design of products,” says the report.

The recommendation for sector self-assessment is music to the ears of Messe Frankfurt Middle East, organiser of Gifts & Lifestyle Middle East, the region’s largest trade show for the stationery, paper, and gifts industry, which will run at the Dubai World Trade Centre from November 15-17 and be co-located alongside the Paperworld Middle East Show.

“These two events are a platform for innovation within the handicrafts market, bringing together world-renowned brands and regional players to network, share ideas, source new products, and discover new solutions that are sustainable, promote efficiency and productivity, and are cost effective,” explained Syed Ali Akbar, Show Director of Messe Frankfurt Middle East.

“Built into the exhibition is a series of incubation features including the Hub Forum where industry experts will debate the sector’s future, a host of artistry workshops, and a business match-making tool where handicraft producers can meet new distribution partners.”

Government initiatives though will remain a powerhouse of sector support. “Government investment in the tourism sector along with religious events and destinations such as Mecca and Medina, as well as initiatives such as Turkiye’s ‘Heartland of Legends’ to promote local artisans and crafts along with an expansion of government training centres will contribute to demand of handicraft products from the public sector,” says the report.

And regionwide, government initiatives are on the rise. Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism has launched the Abu Dhabi Register of Artisans – an online database that allows artisans who practise any of the 17 listed traditional crafts to apply for certification and register membership to benefit from training and development, participation in fairs and workshops, and other government-sponsored activities. In Saudi Arabia, the Heritage Commission is behind initiatives to preserve handicrafts and produce innovative designs through craftsmanship courses, workshops, and production sites. It is also working to boost awareness of locally crafted produce.

In Qatar, the Cultural Village Foundation of Doha is hosting handicraft workshops at the International Handicrafts and Traditional Production Market to promote cultural products among visitors while the Katara Foundation is behind several workshops to develop traditional handicrafts and maintain the local industry. And in Bahrain, the Authority for Culture and Antiquities has formulated the National Register of Craftsmen to promote the handicrafts sector and its sustainable Development. The register includes data on crafts and craftsmen and future strategies for empowering craftsmen by developing their businesses and skills.

“The Middle East has a strong heritage of handicraft and artistic production, which many of the region’s countries now believe holds considerable ‘soft’ cultural as well as economic power,” added Akbar. “Craft is a great communication tool as we have discovered through our trade shows and the bringing together of this region’s crafts folk with their counterparts from elsewhere could lead to a new golden design era. When global craftspeople come together, they unlock exciting new international sales channels both for this region’s artisans and those from further afield whose produce can resonate throughout the Middle East. There are a whole host of business opportunities to be found within the region’s strong gift-giving culture.”