With Egypt’s presidential elections over, tour operators are hoping travel to the Middle East will finally start to recover. Travellers have been continuing to avoid the region for more than a year after the high-profile conflicts of the Arab Spring in late 2010.
Tour operators believe a lack of understanding about the region and misconceptions about safety are keeping people away unnecessarily – when they could be making the most of the cheaper prices arising from the tourism downturn. Traffic is slowly starting to pick up but most operators report numbers are still well down on 2010, before the wave of revolution and protests began.
Tourism ministers and industry leaders from throughout the region came together at May’s Arabian Travel Market in Dubai to discuss ways to combat the ongoing challenges brought about by the Arab Spring. Many destinations in the region have set ambitious targets for visitor numbers and their success will depend on their ability to convince travellers it is safe to return.
The chief executive of large tour operator Cox & Kings, Steve Reynolds, says he is surprised by the extent to which Australians have stayed away. ”If you compare it to other situations [around the world], the recovery has been quite slow, comparatively,” Reynolds says. ”The Egypt situation is now more than 18 months old and the numbers [of visitors from Australia] are still quite small.”
Reynolds says the terrorist attacks on London in 2005 barely disrupted tourism, while events in the Arab world have kept people away for more than a year. ”I would urge people to take a greater sense of perspective,” he says. “We are much more desensitised to risk in places that we perceive to be safer, but people talk about the Middle East as if it’s this very dangerous place. I don’t think that’s the case.”
Reynolds says events in Egypt, for example, have… (click here to keep reading this article by Jane E. Fraser)