Tourism is resilient and Arab countries should prepare for its recovery

Sunday 24/07/2016

Recent reports show that global travel and tourism con­tinue to grow.

According to the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO), 348 million tourists travelled worldwide in the first four months of this year. For all of 2015, more than 1 billion tourists travelled the world.

Those figures are expected to grow as populations across the globe enjoy more time and means for leisure activity while travel infrastruc­ture becomes accessible to larger numbers of travellers and as new communication technologies spark interest in a wider spectrum of destinations.

Tourism is the source of livelihood for millions across the planet. With promising new markets, such as China, the economic dividends will become even more vital for many countries.

This includes the Middle East and Africa, where millions are employed in travel and tourism. There is more, however, than eco­nomics.

“When tourism is well-managed, it has tremendous capacity to create decent jobs, provide opportunities for inclusion and education and contribute to preserving cultural heritage and the environment,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

In a recent report, the World Travel and Tourism Council highlighted the role of tourism as a driver for peace.

“The more sustainable a country’s tourism sector the lower the country’s level of violence and conflict is likely to be,” it said.

The Arab world has traditionally offered attractive destinations. The development of tourism magnets such as Marrakech and Dubai has demonstrated how adequate promotion and development efforts can pay off.

The current setbacks in traditional destinations, such as Egypt and Tunisia, can be overcome with patient and efficient promotion on a global scale and the implementation of appropriate measures at home, including a better security environment at travel facilities and tourism resorts. International travellers have the right to feel and be safe when they travel to the Arab world.

Many Arab countries and other nations of the Middle East and North Africa have suffered in recent months from the fallout of terrorism and war.

No region in the world, including MENA, is immune from terrorism. Jihadists have targeted hotels, airports and means of transportation as well as cultural sites frequently visited by tourists. The terrorists’ intent was not only to inflict economic damage but to create a wedge between the West and the Muslim world and destroy the traditional bridges of hospitality and welcome long offered by the Arab world.

Tourism still has a future in the Middle East and North Africa, first of all because tourism is resilient. As Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the UNWTO, said: “Tourism and travel together have proven to be such a resilient industry that nothing is going to stop.”

According to a study from the World Travel and Tourism Council, the tourism sector takes about 13 months to bounce back after a terrorist attack. This is a faster recovery than after a natural disaster (24 months) or a war (27 months).

Countries in the region should prepare for the recovery of the tourism sector not only by enhancing the security of hotels and airports but also by investing in the diversification of their tourism products and upgrading services and the infrastructure that their countries offer to foreign visitors.

Tourism is here to stay — as are its many benefits.