Arab Spring is "unique opportunity" for tourism

The revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya have created a “unique opportunity” for tourism said Taleb Rifai, secretary general, UN World Tourism Organisation.

Rifai told a seminar at World Travel Market on The Future of Tourism in the Middle East that the new political climate would create a stronger environment for tourism to blossom.

“We have to look towards the future. Growth will occur sooner than people expect in countries where transition to democracy has taken place,” he said. “In the past, tourism was only for the enjoyment of foreigners, but a new political climate is more capable of bringing tourism closer to local people. “

He said the Arab Spring presented a “unique opportunity” for “countries that never took tourism seriously before — for example Libya.”

Rifai pointed out that “important tourism destinations such as Greece, Spain and Portugal were ruled by dictatorships 40 years ago. Tourism has blossomed with democracy and we hope the same will happen in the Middle East. But nobody should be naïve and expect this to happen tomorrow.”

Egypt tourism minister Mounir Abdel-Nour ackowledged that the transition to democracy was difficult [violence has since escalated in Tahrir Square as protestors demand that Egypt’s interim miltary rulers hand over power to a civilian government], but he said he was “optimistic, as a democratic society is an environment conducive to the growth of tourism.”

Visitor numbers to Egypt fell 80% in February this year following the revolution. This has now shrunk to -20% and the aim is to bring numbers back to pre-revolution levels by Q1 2012. Egypt said it wants to double visitor numbers to 30 million and win tourism revenues of $25 billion by 2017.

Abdel-Nour said he expects to see regional integration improve which is vital in order to attract the emerging markets of China and India.

“Multilateral cooperation will come. Diversification into new markets will oblige countries to work together and market together. People will not travel thousands of kms to visit one country but they could do a circuit of a few countries. For example, Indians could come to visit Jordan and Egypt. The industry will create joint ventures between them to cater to these tourists.”

(Source: Hotelier Middle East)

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