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2019: A Good Year for Tourism in the Middle East

Most countries see healthy increase in number of visitors

For much of the Middle East and North Africa, 2019 has been a great year for tourism.

The number of foreign travelers to Israel increased by a little over 10% from last year, with more than 4.55 million people coming from abroad. Overnight stays in hotels are anticipated to total a little over 12 million in 2019, up from 11.6 million in 2018.

The Palestinian territories were the destination of choice for 3.5 million tourists, up 15% from 2018. In Bethlehem, the most popular city with visitors, Mayor Anton Salman said that the influx of sightseers has been good for the economy. “If tourism continues to increase, unemployment will continue to go down and it will be good for the labor market,” he told The Media Line.

Some 2.7 million of these 3.5 million tourists stayed in Palestinian hotels, providing a further boost to the economy.

Salman said that 10 new hotels were set for construction in Bethlehem in 2020.

The mayor said his biggest challenge next year was transportation, something “which we’ve worked and are working to resolve.”

The World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019 stresses the importance of tourism to the health of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region’s economy:

“[Travel and tourism together] accounts for a greater share of regional GDP than in any of the other … regions. MENA is also the only region where international visitor spending is greater than domestic visitor spending,” the researchers wrote.

In Jordan, tourism revenue for the first 10 months of 2019 totaled nearly $5 billion, The Jordan Times reported, citing figures from the Central Bank of Jordan. That represents a 9.4% increase from the same period in 2018. The 4.86 million foreigners who visited the Hashemite Kingdom by the end of October represented a 7.7% increase from a year earlier.

The Jordan Tourism Board told The Media Line in an email: “There has been a steady increase of tourists, many of which are visiting the most famous sites and attractions including the ‘lost city’ of Petra in Wadi Musa, Jerash, known for ancient Roman architecture, and the Wadi Rum Desert, known as the ‘Valley of the Moon.’”

In January-October 2019, the number of visitors to Petra and Wadi Rum increased by almost 45% from the same period in the previous year, and the number visiting Jerash surged by nearly 65%, The Jordan Times reported.

Jordan was rated “most improved” in the region for “cultural resources and business travel,” according to World Economic Forum report.

The United Arab Emirates received the top rating for tourism in the MENA region, followed by Qatar and Israel. Lebanon, Algeria and Yemen were the lowest-ranked countries on the list.

Tourism, however, was not on the rise everywhere.

The latest figures from the Syrian Tourism Ministry indicate that 1.5 million people visited the country in 2019, down 7 million from 2010, before the civil war began.

The situation in the Land of the Pharaohs was much different, with 12 million visitors in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, according to figures from the Central Bank of Egypt. The Egypt tourism industry has shown increasing signs of life as revenue increased to $12.6 billion, $1 billion more than in 2010, before the Arab Spring devastated the sector.

All in all, 2020 promises to be a banner year for tourism in the Middle East.