Middle East Regions’Tourism Futures
The Middle Eastern travel market
Key trends in international tourism show that
tourist arrivals across state boundaries reached
about 625 million in 1998 worldwide. International
tourism receipts (excluding international
transport) increased by just 2% in 1998 over 1997
to US$ 445 billion, which was mainly due,
perhaps, to Asia’s financial crisis. The Middle
East was the second fastest growing region in
1997 after Africa, registering an increase of 6.1%
in arrivals and 10.5% in tourism receipts over
1996. In 1998, tourism in the Middle East grew
much faster than the world average – by 5.3%
in terms of arrivals and 6.4% in terms of receipts.
The Middle East region enjoys a competitive
advantage in its attractions, consisting of unparalleled
cultural and religious wealth, its still
unpolluted and unspoiled beaches and the wellknown
warmth and generosity of its people. The
WTO ‘Vision 2020’ forecast 19 million tourist
arrivals in the Middle East in the year 2000, 37
million tourist arrivals for 2010 and 69 million
for the year 2020. This represents an average rate
of growth of 6.7%, compared with a world average rate of increase of 4.3%
The Arab Middle Eastern travel market was a predominantly business
market. Gulf travellers, for instance, were mostly business-oriented and did
not give much attention to leisure travel, at least in the Arab world. However,
other Arabs such as Egyptians, Tunisians, Syrians and Lebanese, have been
travelling for leisure for a relatively long time. As an illustration, well-off
Egyptians were accustomed to spend their summer holidays in Lebanon and
Syria in addition to Europe since the dawn of the 20th century. The Gulf people
started their leisure travel to Lebanon, Syria and Egypt in addition to European
countries perhaps in the 1960s. They used to buy villas and flats as second
homes to visit in urban centres and in resorts. More recently the Arab leisure
market has become large enough to justify dealing with it as an important
market, particularly after some Arab investors became interested in new resorts
in certain Arab countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia.
The Arab travel market has its own peculiarities, depending upon the character
and temperament of the Arab traveller/tourist in various Arab countries.
Irrespective of the many links and common features that tie Arabs together,
their motivations and behavioural patterns differ. The combination of business
and leisure is perhaps the most striking purpose of travel besides visiting
relatives and friends. The Arab market segments, whether economic, social,
cultural/educational or geographic, dictate variations in attitudes and travel
patterns. Urban settlers would have different motivations and attitudes than
rural people, which is a distinction that is common to most nations of the
world: the distinction may be more prominent with Arabs.
Factors influencing the tourist traffic in the Arab Middle East
* Worldwide economic recovery with the countries of the region contributing
to resumed economic growth.
* Growing interest of the populations in developed countries in the culture
and ways of life of people of developing countries.
* Scale and variety of natural and cultural tourist attractions and development
in the Arab world.
* Growth in tourist-generating markets which results in the increase in the
number of consumers with sufficient discretionary income to travel outside
their own country.
* Expansion of international airline connections between tourist-generating
countries and main Arab destinations.
* As a result of the up-swing in Middle East traffic, charter flight traffic is
* Easement of currency and travel regulations affecting foreign tourists.
* Growing impact of computer technology on distribution systems.
* The negative image that used to exist about some countries in the Middle
East region characterized by low hygiene standards, tourist harassment,
moderate safety records in air, sea and land transport, standing tensions
and political upheavals.
* Lack of sufficient infrastructure and major tourist development projects
in some destinations.
* Insufficient numbers of skilled personnel and ineffectiveness of education
and training programmes.
* Risk of conflict between tourist developers and local communities
concerning sustainable tourist development projects.
* Low level of environmental conditions in some towns and localities.
* Ineffective marketing and promotional efforts exerted by some countries
of the region.
Trends in the Expanded Middle East in 1997
The Expanded Middle East (EME) covers the following three sub-regions:
Middle East, Northern Africa and Europe–Mediterranean region. Many of
the countries of the EME have experienced unrest and tensions. In some
countries, the security of foreign tourists was seriously threatened while in
others tourists were the target of terrorist movements and attacks. Many destinations
in the region would therefore benefit significantly from Middle East
Some traditional destinations of the region have already invested heavily in
tourism and they are reaping benefits of such investment. Other countries, particularly
those of the Gulf, are realizing the importance of investing in tourism
as a tool for development and are adopting progressively measures to create a
better climate for potential investors, both within and outside the region.
All three regions taken together registered almost 36 million tourist arrivals
in 1997, generating an estimated US$ 22.8 billion in tourism receipts, or an
average of US$ 633 per tourist arrival. This average conceals significant
differences between one sub-region and another. The average receipts per
tourist arrival in Northern Africa were US$ 343 against US$ 871 for the
East-Mediterranean Europe and US$ 582 for the Middle East region (WTO,
1998). The share of the EME in world tourist arrivals was 5.9% and in world
tourism receipts 5.1%. This share has fluctuated only marginally on a yearto-
year basis. Compared to 1996, this share has increased in terms of tourist
arrivals (5.6% in 1996), and tourism receipts (4.9%).
In 1997, countries most visited by European tourists were Tunisia (2.1 million),
Egypt (nearly 1.9 million), Syria (286 000), Dubai in the United Arab
Emirates (183 000 in 1995) and Jordan (171 000). Growth in European
tourism to the region since the late 1980s is attributable in large measure to
the tourism development promotion of Egypt. Lower real air fares make the
countries of the region more ‘price accessible’ to European holidaymakers. The
continued significance of the region in international trade has generated
substantial extra business tourist volumes from Europe. The principal touristgenerating
market to the Middle East is Saudi Arabia (intraregional traffic).
As to inter-regional travel, Germany, the UK, United States, France, Italy and
the Netherlands constitute about one-third of the tourist traffic to the region.
Insofar as outbound travel from the region is concerned, Middle Eastern
residents have increased the volume of their overseas travel noticeably. The
most favoured destinations for Middle Eastern tourists are tourist destinations
in the region (intraregional), such as the Gulf states, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria,
Jordan and Tunisia. The next favoured destination regions are Europe, North
America and East Asia. Data on outbound tourism by the residents of Middle
Eastern countries are inadequate to conduct any detailed analysis. Such data
are not recorded by separate country of origin for Arab travellers between
many states. Moreover, some governments regard these data as politically
sensitive. Likewise data on expenditures overseas by country are not reliable
and are not even available in most countries of the region.
A new regional tourism association, called the Middle East Mediterranean
Travel and Tourism Association (MEMTTA), was created in October 1995
at an international economic conference in Amman, Jordan. Its goal is to
pave the way for increased tourism development in the region and at the
same time, forge bonds between private sector tourism interests that will help
ease some of the political tensions in the region. Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan,
Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and Turkey signed its charter.
In March 1996, a ‘conference of peacemakers’ was convened in Sharmel-
sheikh, Egypt, and was attended by leaders of 27 nations, including a
broad swath of the Arab World. They joined in a sweeping condemnation of
bombings and vowed to cooperate in cracking down on terrorist attacks and
in promoting peace throughout the Middle East.
The private sector should become more active, experienced and more
participative in achieving economic growth. Middle Eastern tourism will
continue to benefit from moves towards more free-market economies and the
search for alternative growth sectors in the economies. Many Middle Eastern
countries see tourism as an excellent developmental tool, which can fulfil
balanced and sustainable growth.
Changing market segments, product development
and marketing strategies
Growth of tourist outbound travel and purpose of visit
The tourist demand for outbound travel is growing due to the enhanced
discretionary incomes and increase in the reasons for travel. Visiting friends
and relatives (VFR) still occupies a large portion of the tourist market in the
Middle East. Continuing advances in computer technology and the even more
rapid growth in the use of these developments for business applications is
likely to restrict the expansion of business travel. Companies are now applying
technology more and more as a substitute for a business trip where possible.
Patterns of holiday travel
The Middle East region has developed its tourism not on the basis of beach
resort holidays as so many long-haul destinations from Europe and North
America have done, but on the basis of the rich cultural and religious heritage
of the countries of the region. It is the birthplace of three major world religions:
Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The archaeological sites in Egypt, Jordan,
Lebanon and Syria have constituted the attractions for foreign tourism for
decades. However, these sites clearly have finite carrying capacities. The tourist
authorities in Jordan strictly limit new hotel development expansion in the
ancient hidden city of Petra because of concerns that consequent large increases
in tourist numbers will cause irreparable damage to the antiquities. The same
concern prevails now in Egypt, particularly in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor’s
West Bank, where studies to limit the numbers of visitors are in process.
Many of the countries of the region now embrace tourism as part of their
economic development strategies. There is consequently a need to develop
more natural and archaeological sites for tourist use and/or to diversify the
types of tourism catered for, including beach tourism. The region possesses
a wide array of natural as well as cultural and historical resources, including
the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean coastlines. These
offer considerable potential for beach resort development. The Middle East
is the first logical interregional tourist destination for the European tourist
market because of its geographical proximity, but the unsettled political
climate of the region over recent decades has prevented both interest and the
flow of investment in coastal tourism. The expansion of European beach
resort tourism has been to the west (e.g. to the Caribbean and North America)
and to south and south-east Asia (e.g. Goa in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand).
The governments of the region, including Egypt, recognize that the Middle
East tourism product should not be developed solely as an extension to the
Mediterranean resorts of Spain, France and Italy. It should be manifested
through facilities and attractions, which are an expression of the cultural
heritage and intrinsic features of the Arab people of the Middle East. The
recent growth in European interregional tourism has been based on longhaul
beach resorts reflecting the ‘trend-setters’ move away from the closer
to home destination areas towards far flung destinations which are perceived
as ‘exciting and unspoilt’. Marketing activities by many of these destinations
and improved air transport access, including through charter operations, have
ensured that the momentum of trend has been maintained. The North
American and Asian origin markets (principally the United States, Canada
and Japan) are geographically more distant form. the Middle East region than
is Europe. The lure of the region for the tourists from these markets will
remain predominantly its culture and heritage, with beach resorts constituting
relatively limited appeal until late in the forecast period.
In volume terms, Europe will remain the largest potential interregional
market for the Middle East. Yet Europe is a mature tourist-generating region
and overall could be approaching its ceiling (both in terms of free time and
personal income) for tourism growth potential. The Middle East region will
continue to attract for some years before ceiling limitations come into effect.
None the less, ceiling constraint on the European market in the mid- to longterm
will be of increasing concern to tourism planners in the region.
Quality and quantity
An important question for the Middle East is how tourist traffic in general
and intraregional tourist movement in particular could be economically,
socially and environmentally viable.
As Middle Eastern tourist products are mostly quality products, they should
be addressed to quality markets. While quantity (number of tourist arrivals
and tourist nights) count in placing the tourist destination among the leading
places to visit, quality is becoming more and more a decisive criterion in
the economic viability of tourism as a productive industry. How quality tourist
flows could be marketed is a technical and professional question that requires
expertise and know-how that cannot be explained in the present blogers. On
the other hand, service quality in tourism is a cornerstone in the competition
The full range of elements, features and characteristics that go to make
up any tourist experience is quite wide and varies from one customer to
another, but good field research in tourist motivations would help in diagnosing
those desired components of the tourist experience. Among these
would be quality of attractions, facilities, safety, superservices, good general
atmosphere, comfort, warmth friendliness, care, immediate corrective action
for any default, etc.
Tourism and sustainability
International tourist markets are becoming increasingly conscious of the need
for sustainable tourism development, which meets the needs of present tourist
and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future.
Tourists are more knowledgeable about their possible contribution to the degradation
of nature and culture and are increasingly scrutinizing tourism development
occurring in a country or region before making their choices. Knowledge
leads directly to interest in the intrinsic features of countries and regions.
In practice, few tourists undertake a holiday solely related to nature or a
country’s culture. Despite the upsurge in awareness and interest noted, the
avid ecotourist will remain a small market segment. However, an increasing
proportion of tourists will include a nature or culture component in their
holiday (as a day trip for example). Even more will select a destination,
which has an environment-friendly approach to its tourism development.
Marketing strategies (supported, of course, by appropriate product development)
should stress this sustainable approach to tourism development. This
can influence the destination decisions not only of special interest culture or
nature-oriented tourists, but also of tourists wishing to pursue conventional
general interest pursuits such as beach or touring holidays.
Tourist product development in the region could fall under four categories
* Full development of tourist resorts, e.g. in Egypt, the Gulf of Aquaba,
the Red Sea coast, the North West coast and North Sinai, Mutrah/Muscat,
and Salala in Oman, Aquaba in Jordan, Jumeira Beach in Dubai, Lattakia
* Creating new and re-establishing tourist destinations of Oman, Yemen and
eventually Iraq. Libya, once freed from the economic blockade, could be
developed as a potential tourist destination provided that tourist awareness
of the population and efficient tourist training could be conducted.
* Reconstruction of secondary existing tourist-oriented cities in Jordan
(Jarash) and Syria (Aleppo and Homs).
* Restoration and improvement of prime historical attractions and archaeological
sites, such as the Giza pyramids area, Valley of the Kings and
Fayoum in Egypt, Petra in Jordan.
Although ‘growth sustains growth’, which means that tourism in the Middle
East would continue to grow, this does not necessarily apply at continuous
high rates of expansion. Some air transport studies show that the Middle
East will match the world’s average for all scheduled air traffic growth but
will lag behind slightly in the expansion of international route traffic. The
Economist study ‘International Tourism Forecasts to 2005’ shows that tourism
expansion prospect in the Middle East would average 4.3% a year.
WTO forecasts to the year 2000 and beyond suggest more than 4.5%
annual growth. This average rate of increase is low when compared with the
rates of growth achieved and/or anticipated by a number of countries in the
Middle East region for their inbound tourism traffic. Some of these forecasts
are close to or in excess of 10% a year. Egypt is one of these countries while
some important European tourist-generating markets such as Germany, the
UK, France and Italy, responding to the good resort developments in Egypt,
are expected to achieve faster rates of growth. This would be contingent upon
continued stability in Egypt and in the whole Middle East region.
The development potential of tourism in the Middle East looks good but
the question is how much would its average growth rate be? Accurate scientific
forecasting is difficult as almost all base years are exceptional years
because of the repetitive negative events that occur in the Middle East, i.e.
conflicts, wars and terrorist acts. If real sustainable peace and stability prevail,
the Middle East would become a tourist heaven. Beside peace, perhaps the
three most pressing needs for action both by individual countries and on a
collective basis, are:
* Encouragement and generation of investments in and resource commitments
to the region’s main tourism sectors including air transport,
accommodation and recreation.
* Image improvement: substantially increased and well-planned focused
aggressive marketing and promotional activities are necessary to win the
conviction and confidence of potential tourists of the major tourist generating
markets that the Middle East region has a competitive advantage in
offering a wide range of bona fide holiday destinations that cater for
almost all forms of tourism.
* Developing more effective safety and security measures to guarantee a
more stable tourist climate that contributes to longer-term tourism development
programmes in the face of international competition.
Moreover, a revival of the consciousness of Arab solidarity and realization
of exogenous risks and dangers that threaten Arab identity in the age of globalization
should result in more solid and substantial efforts to constitute Arab
economic and tourism integration. These would lead to a brighter future
through complementary productive endeavours, among which Arab intraregional
tourist traffic would be one effective operational tool.
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- Creating Time: 2009-03-09
- Update Time: 2011-03-03