Can Middle East tourism ever recover?

Has tourism in Middle East reached a tipping point?
The Islamic world’s mystery and riches once attracted hordes of western sightseers and beach tourists. But conflict and jihadist terrorism is destroying the industry in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, Guardian contributor Kevin Rushby writes.
In a long feature he recalls the exotic atmosphere of the nightlife and historic attractions in the Yemeni port of Aden in the early 1990s. Today nobody visits Aden, or the mountain city of Sana’a with its ancient centre. Other World Heritage sites now inaccessible across the Middle East include Libya’s Leptis Magna, Syria’s Palmyra (or what’s left of it) and the Afghan buddhas of Bamiyan.
“There are serious concerns that the downward plunge is about to be repeated across the entire Middle East, dragging down mass tourist destinations such as Egypt, Morocco and Turkey,” Rushby writes. “A multi-billion-dollar industry is teetering on the brink of collapse, a disaster that could leave millions jobless and faced with the grim choices of a hopeless existence, perilous emigration or violence.”
He quotes Yeganeh Morakabati, who researches the topic of tourism and terrorism at Bournemouth University: “The tourist industry in the Middle East may have reached a tipping point. It doesn’t look good at all, certainly in the short term.”
In most of the region, the big drop in tourism means more unemployment, more poverty – and more recruitment for extremist groups.
A recent visitor to Petra in Jordan, where at least 10 hotels have closed, said he had the place to himself. Peaceful Jordan is seen as unsafe, tainted by association with violent neighbours.
In Sinai, there are countless shells of unfinished hotels. In Luxor, hundreds of riverboats are tied up and disused. Advance bookings to Egypt are said to be extremely low.
Even in Turkey there is a serious downturn, certain to worsen now Russia is pressuring its citizens not to travel there. But there are bright spots, with tour operators covering Iran, for example, seeing a surge in demand. Tourism in Algeria and Central Asia is also improving. Rushby ends optimistically, listing six destinations for travellers in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Guardian


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