Tourism bounces back in the Middle East

Six years since the Arab Spring started in Tunisia, causing turmoil in the Middle East, the tourism map of the world has been redrawn several times – and there are signs that it is shifting again.

Spain has long been Britain’s top holiday destination, but global events have seen its popularity soar to record levels in recent years. Arrivals peaked at an all time high of over 10.1 million in August 2016 with numbers up again this year, responding to a perceived threat of terrorism elsewhere in the world.

Holidays cancelled

Meanwhile, Thomas Cook cancelled its Sharm el Sheikh programme amid a climate of terror attack fears, Mark Warner pulled out of Turkey and the Foreign Office advised against all travel to Tunisia after the beach massacre in Sousse in June 2015. A number of tour operators specialising North Africa and the Middle East have also gone bust, including Jewel in the Crown, which claimed to be the largest independent tour operator to Turkey.

There are signs that confidence is growing among holidaymakers

However, last month the Foreign Office was satisfied that security had improved in Tunisia and that it was safe for British passport-holders to return. While the big tour operators have yet to respond by reintroducing the North African nation to their brochures, there are signs that confidence in destinations recently perceived as dangerous is growing among holidaymakers.

Tour operator Cox and Kings has seen its escorted trips to the Middle East increase by 40 per cent compared to last year, with passenger numbers up by almost 50 per cent. There has been an even bigger increase in tailor-made tours. The countries that have seen the highest levels of interest include Jordan, Oman and Iran.

Abta, the Travel Association, reports modest growth among its members over the last five years, with significant gains in the UAE.

Intrepid Travel, which specialises in adventurous group tours, has seen passenger numbers up 60 and 70 per cent since last year on its trips to Egypt and Jordan respectively. It plans to add more departures for both destinations next year, with a focus on cycling and food tours. Michael Edwards, Managing Director, says that Intrepid’s customers realise that the region need not be off limits, in spite of alarming headlines.

Similarly, group specialist G Adventures is reporting a rise in trips to Egypt and Jordan with a year-on-year increase of 19 and 42 per cent respectively. While Jordan hasn’t suffered the insurrection or terrorism of its neighbours Syria and Iraq, its tourist industry has been harmed by association. Brian Young, G Adventures’ managing director says “we’re excited to see the return of travellers to Egypt and Jordan, and the lifting of the FCO ban for Tunisia will help place the region in a more favourable light. These destinations have suffered with the halo effect of what’s been going on in neighbouring countries and it’s important to their economies that tourists return. The pyramids and Petra are still high on people’s bucket lists, so it’s more a matter of when, rather than if, travellers return.”

Tunisia Tourism One Year After Sousse Terror Attack
A man sells kites along the deserted beach in Sousse, Tunisia (Photo credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

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