POST TIME: 22 January, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Chinese, Russians shore up Middle East tourism

Chinese, Russians shore up Middle East tourism

AFP, MADRID: Chinese and Russian visitors boosted Middle Eastern tourism last year following a 2016 slump as Europeans gave the area a wide berth on security fears, according to the World Tourism Organization (WTO).

The Mideast region as a whole drew 58 million foreign tourists in 2017 -- a 4.8 per cent rise on the previous year—the Madrid-based WTO said in its latest figures released midweek. Jihadist attacks on tourist sites in Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey in recent years particularly hit the industry.

But “over time, people forget and return,” said Jalel Gasmi, head of Granada Travel Services, a tour operator attending the Fitur international tourism gathering in the Spanish capital.

Despite the annual rise, Marcus Lee, heading the Welcome China agency, said the sector could not rest on its laurels.

For Chinese visitors, security “is the first thing they ask about” beyond visa regulations and often poor flight connections in the Middle East, said Lee.

Security concerns aside, Lee said rising purchasing power means the Chinese tourist takes a different approach compared to 20 years ago when, “for example ... coming to Europe they wanted to see ten countries in ten days. “That’s no longer the case and we are concentrating on one country over ten days,” said Lee.

In the case of Egypt, tourist numbers soared 55 percent last year, even as European numbers dipped, with Chinese and visitors from Egypt’s neighbours taking their place.

Visitor profiles have changed since military man Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power in 2014 and especially since the 2011 overthrow of longtime Hosni Mubarak.