Tourism in the Middle East is facing a serious crisis because of the “Arab Spring” – the popular uprisings that have affected various countries in the region.
This was acknowledged by tourism ministers from 16 Arab countries who gathered in Aqaba, Jordan, for the Second Economic Conference Sept. 29-30.
According to Bandar Ben Fahd Al Fahaid, president of the Arab Organization of Tourism, the industry made losses of at least $7 billion in 2011 due to the events in the region.
The effects have been particularly acute in Egypt. At the beginning of 2011, the country hoped to welcome at least 14 million tourists this year, but in the first three months of 2011 the number of visitors decreased by 54.3 percent compared to 2010. Losses amounted to at least a billion dollars a month, and in the second quarter of the year, revenues declined by 35.4 per cent.
Syria, meanwhile, has recorded virtually no tourists in 2011, whereas before the riots the number reached a record 7 million visitors a year.
Among the countries to have stymied the tourism decline is Jordan. According to Jordanian Prime Minister, Marouf al-Bakhit, who attended the conference, in the first eight months of 2011 more than 3 million tourists visited Jordan, bringing the country $1.3 billion in revenue. The number is less than the 4.6 million tourists who visited in 2010 but it is still significant. Part of the reason is the country’s strong investment in tourism, estimated to be approximately $1.5 billion in 2010. “Most notably, tourists coming from the Gulf increased by 26% compared to the previous year,” noted al-Bakhit.
The overall decrease in arrivals, however, is attributable to European travellers: “Seventy percent of the trips cancelled were from Europe,” Shaher Hamdan, director of the Jordanian Association of Travel Agents and Tourism, told AFP. “So in 2011 the earnings of travel agents have decreased 90 percent. The Arab Spring has also damaged tourism in Jordan.” Although the protests in Amman have only been sporadic, often visits to Jordan include stops in Egypt and Syria as part of a package holiday. Instability in neighbouring countries has a strong influence.
In Turkey, Ankara has so far escaped the turmoil of its Arab neighbours, but it has also experienced changes due to the tensions of the area. According to the local Ministry of Tourism, the traditional influx of Israeli travellers fell by 27% this year compared to 2010, while tourism from Arab countries increased, reaching 1.4 million in just the period from January to August 2011. This is compared to 1.2 million for the whole of 2010.
But the general situation of tourism to Arab countries is so problematic that to safeguard the investments made and guard against probable losses, the Organisation of Arab Tourism has signed an agreement with the insurance company ‘The Islamic Corporation for the Insurance of Investment and Export Credit’.
The global economic crisis and socio-political instability in the region has also affected the flow of tourism to Israel which is also lamenting a decline in numbers compared to previous years.