Dubai – “ASWAQ”
Several Arab nations are now looking towards attracting Chinese visitors to revive their tourism sectors which had long suffered from security fears. They also see the need to develop homegrown tourism as a lifeline, ministers from the region say.
Foreigners have shunned beaches and historic sites across the North Africa and the Middle East region after the Arab spring unrest in parts of the region, followed by the deadly attacks in Tunisia and Egypt.
Nevertheless, the number of Chinese visitors to Egypt soared last year despite a series of security blows to the country’s key tourism sector in 2015, since the government began to allow charter flights from the Asian country, said Egyptian Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou.
Visitors from China to Egypt increased more than double from 60,000 in 2014 to 135,000 in 2015, during the year in which Egypt suffered a lot, he said at a conference on tourism policies in Arab nations at the recent Madrid international tourism fair, FITUR.
Citing several incidents such as, eight Mexican tourists were mistakenly killed by Egyptian security forces in the vast Western Desert in September 2015, followed by a Russian airliner which crashed in the Sinai desert shortly after taking off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.
Zaazou added, “Egypt has also boosted promotion efforts in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab nations, leading to a sharp increase in the number of visitors from those nations and is doing more to promote domestic tourism. The country is relying on the short memory of global travelers who have been scared off and returned to the country before, most vividly after the Luxor massacre in 1997 when over 60 people were killed, mostly Swiss and Japanese, he added.
The minister believes that 2016 will be the year tourists would come back to Egypt and that part of the world.
Morocco has also stepped up its efforts to promote its own domestic tourism market to help offset fluctuations in the arrival of foreigners, said Morocco’s Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad.
Morocco’s domestic market presently stands at 33 per cent of the nation’s total tourism activity, up from 25 per cent in 2012. He added, “The more domestic tourism you have the more mature your destination becomes, the more your industry is used, and also the more resilient your destination becomes because people domestically will travel no matter what.”
“We have been able to draw more investments despite the crisis that started in mid-2014. We have also seen more creation of jobs and seen more hotel brands interested in Morocco.”
For example, the Swiss group Movenpick has opened its third hotel in Marrakech, Morocco at the end of last year, one of several major hotel investments in recent years. Marrakech is the kingdom’s biggest tourism centre and foreigners’ favourite spot. Except for one attack against tourists in 2011 in Marrakesh, Morocco has been calm for the past decade. But it still suffered a drop in visitors last year after 38 holidaymakers, mainly British, were gunned down at Tunisia’s seaside resort of Sousse in June.
Jordanian Tourism Minister Nayef Al Fayez said the region have been neglecting domestic tourism and now need a “wake-up call” to promote more domestic tourism that will keep them going during difficult times.