WTO: Middle East tourism is expected to rise


JEDDAH – Tourism within the Middle East is expected to rise by around 2 percent to 6 percent this year due to the financial crisis and swine flu, according to a new report by the World Tourism Organization (WTO).

Hotels worldwide are eager to tap Middle East travelers, as figures cited by the report showed that Arab Gulf countries spend $20 billion on vacations every year, led by Saudi tourists whose expenditure tops $8.5 billion.

Europe and the UK are typically the most popular destinations for Middle East travelers in the summer, but this year travel to these hot spots has fallen.

Measures brought on by the economic downturn will mean reduced expenditures for the average Arab family, the report said, while the limited spread of the new H1N1 flu virus in Arab countries will encourage the Arab tourist to look closer to home.

Domestic tourism has seen 31 percent growth in the UAE this year as compared to the 11 percent seen over the last three years, WTO statistics for the first six months of this year reveal.

“The holiday traffic has been reduced partly because people do not know exactly what the future holds,’ said Melwyn D’Souza, Operations manager, Al Futtaim travel in Dubai. ‘They don’t want to spend money on travel they can avoid.”

“Summer used to be a peak period, but people have been leaving in installments, basically, while before you’d see the rush in one go. We were reckoning that July would be a big month with people going back home, but they are choosing to stay here.”

As a result of the belt tightening, many people in the Middle East are choosing to take their holiday within the region, D’Souza told AME Info, as evidenced by the fact that “flights till the end of July and early August to Egypt are full, you can’t get a seat.”

In a bid to encourage travelers from the Gulf to visit its hotels in Germany, Hyatt issued a press release last week focused solely on promoting the fact that its four properties in the country offer Arabic-speaking staff, authentic culinary specialties and prayer carpets.