Dubai has become a focus of diverted tourism as visit numbers plummet to countries such as Egypt and Tunisia
Tourists on the beach at the Jumiyerah Beach Residence in Dubai. Safe tourism destinations in the Middle East are thriving as the Arab Spring sparks a drop in tourism in countries at the centre of turmoil © Karim Sahib - AFP/File
Dubai has become a focus of diverted tourism as visit numbers plummet to countries such as Egypt and Tunisia
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Ali Khalil, AFP
Last updated: May 6, 2012

Safe Arab tourism destinations thrive

The Arab Spring has resulted in a sharp drop in tourism in countries at the centre of the turmoil, to the benefit of safe destinations in the region, experts say.

Major tourist destinations such as Tunisia and Egypt saw the numbers of visitors plummet because of uprisings last year that spread to other nations where confrontations with autocratic regimes turned deadly.

The Gulf city state of Dubai, as well as popular destinations outside the Middle East, became the focus of diverted tourism.

"The Middle East and North Africa saw a drop as a whole in international arrivals, mainly in Egypt and Tunisia," said Ahmed Youssef, MENA director of marketing and operations at Amadeus.

"Tourist flows from Egypt to Turkey increased by 400 percent in 2011," said Youssef, speaking at the Arabian Travel Market last week in Dubai. His company provides IT solutions for the travel industry.

According to the World Tourism Organisation UNWTO, international tourist arrivals in the Middle East declined 8.4 percent to 54.8 million in 2011, after growing 14.9 percent the year before.

UNWTO statistics also showed that tourist inflows to North Africa slipped 9.9 percent to 16.9 million after increasing by 6.5 percent in 2010.

"Due to the social and political developments," Syria saw a drop of 41 percent, Egypt by 32 percent, Tunisia 31 percent and Lebanon 24 percent," UNWTO statistics showed in March.

In autumn last year Jordan reported a 16-percent drop in its tourism revenues in the first seven months of 2011. The sector contributes 14 percent to the kingdom's gross domestic product.

Syrian state newspaper Al-Baath reported last week that four million tourists visited Syria in 2011, despite insecurity in the country where thousands have been killed since anti-regime protests erupted in March 2011.

But the number reveals a drop of more than 40 percent from the seven million tourists registered in 2010.

On the other hand, Turkey received 1.4 million Arab tourists in the first eight months of 2011: up from 1.2 million in 2010.

And Dubai last year posted a 10-percent rise in guests at hotels and hotel apartments, reaching 9.09 million, with revenues hitting 15.97 billion dirhams ($4.4 billion), 20 percent up from 2010.

In the first quarter of 2012, the number of guests increased nine percent to 2.6 million guests, according to Dubai authorities. They hope the number of tourists will hit 10 million this year.

"The Arab Spring has left an impact," said Khaled al-Mazroui, general manager of Fujairah International Airport in the United Arab Emirates.

"Tourists look for safe destinations, in addition of course to quality services," he told AFP, adding that the UAE had "benefited from this diversion of tourism, especially from neighbouring Gulf countries."

Paul Griffiths, chief executive officer of Dubai Airports, acknowledged an increase in tourists from neighbouring Gulf states who would usually travel to Egypt or other Arab countries on the Mediterranean.

"There has been a redistribution (of tourists) over the past few months," he told reporters, pointing to a "significant surge in tourists (in Dubai) from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait" and other Gulf nations.

Dubai's malls and restaurants have been heaving with Gulf visitors during school holidays over past months.

The head of UNWTO, Taleb Rifai, gave an upbeat assessment at the Arabian Travel Market, saying some of the destinations hit by last year's uprisings were already making a comeback.

"Countries directly affected like Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen saw a downturn of 80 to 85 percent as political events unfolded but minimised losses considerably in 2011, closing the year down by 25 to 30 percent," he said.

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