By Ali Khalil -
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 per cent in 2011,” said Youssef, speaking at the Arabian Travel Market 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 per cent to 54.8 million in 2011, after growing 14.9 per cent the year before.
UNWTO statistics also showed that tourist inflows to North Africa slipped 9.9 per cent to 16.9 million after increasing by 6.5 per cent in 2010.
“Due to the social and political developments,” Syria saw a drop of 41 per cent, Egypt by 32 per cent, Tunisia 31 per cent and Lebanon 24 per cent,” UNWTO statistics showed in March.
In autumn last year Jordan reported a 16 per cent drop in its tourism revenues in the first seven months of 2011. The sector contributes 14 per cent to the kingdom’s gross domestic product.
In Tunisia, where tourism accounted for 7 per cent of economic output in 2010, the sector’s receipts plunged by a third in 2011.
Syrian state newspaper Al Baath reported last week that four million tourists visited Syria in 2011, despite insecurity in the country. But the number reveals a drop of more than 40 per cent 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 per cent rise in guests at hotels and hotel apartments, reaching 9.09 million, with revenues hitting $4.4 billion, 20 per cent up from 2010.
In the first quarter of 2012, the number of guests increased nine per cent 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 said, adding that the UAE had “benefited from this diversion of tourism.”
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.
“There has been a redistribution (of tourists) over the past few months,” he told reporters.