Fear of terror attacks among Brits will affect MENA tourism

Friday 13/11/2015
British Embassy staff assist in evacuation of tourists

LONDON - While the world waited to learn the reason behind the Russian airline crash on October 31st over Egypt, about 14,000 Brit­ish holidaymakers were stranded in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el- Sheikh.

2015 has not been a great year for UK tourists who chose Arab countries as holiday destinations.

The March 2015 terror attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tu­nis, in which 20 tourists died, and a massacre at a popular Tunisian beach resort in Sousse in June that left 38 people, 30 of whom were Britons, dead have raised fears among British holidaymakers of further terror attacks in popular Arab destinations.

The death toll at Sousse was the worst loss of life for Britain in a ji­hadist attack since the July 2005 bombings in London.

Mounira Ben Cherifa, deputy di­rector of Tunisia Tourism Office in London, said that Tunisia was still open for business despite the ter­ror attacks claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS) on its soil.

“We would like to remind Brit­ish people that what happened in Tunisia could happen anywhere in the world. Tunisian people are friendly, peaceful and hospitable,” Ben Cherifa said.

The UK market is one of the most important for tourism in the Arab world as more and more Britons choose destinations in the Mid­dle East and North Africa (MENA) to soak up the sun on the region’s beaches.

The fear of terrorism is cited as a key reason for opting for a “stay­cation” in 2015, according to the World Travel market 2015 Industry Report.

Nearly two-thirds — 61% — of the Brits who holidayed in the United Kingdom during 2015 said that terrorism threats were an im­portant factor in their decision.

If the theory that the Russian air crash was caused by an ISIS bomb attack is confirmed, it would deal a major blow to tourism-dependent Arab countries where ISIS jihadists are active.

Britain suspended all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh and warned against all but essential air travel to the area.

Many major tour operators im­mediately suspended packages to the beach resorts of the Sinai peninsula’s Red Sea coast, which could result in lasting damage to a key sector of the Egyptian econo­my.

Egypt, which has been deal­ing with political turmoil since the “Arab spring”, saw an aver­age annual drop in the number of UK visitors of 18.5% from 2010 to 2014, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Simon Press, senior director of World Travel Market London, said: “The travel industry is go­ing through a testing time and, although terrorist attacks are rare, the fact is that fear, uncertainty and risk all play a part in holiday­makers’ decisions nowadays.”