Middle East and Africa Recover Lost Ground

After a period of stagnation due to instability in the region, North Africa and the Middle East tourism posted strong growth in 2017

While African tourism has recorded overall growth over the last three years, the Middle East nally was back on track with total arrivals to the region up by 5% in 2017. It’s a sign that a strong recovery is underway following three years of sharp contraction in North Africa and two years of stagnation for the Middle East.

Indeed, the UNWTO’s World Tourism Barometer States that this return to growth was characterised by “extraordinary strength.” Provisioned data from the UNWTO show that international arrivals in all of Africa accelerated 7.8% in 2017 – up from from 7.6% in 2016. This amounts to roughly 62 million international arrivals. Of these, sub-saharan Africa generated the largest number of travellers at 40.7 million; while South Africa accounted for a quarter of all arrivals with 10.3 million arrivals – which was modest growth due to a decline in Chinese visitors to the country.

The most reassuring trend came from North Africa. After years of decline due to the spread of terrorism and political instability, Egypt as well as Tunisia could smile again last year as tourist arrivals started to grow. Foreign arrivals to Egypt in 2017 increased by a massive 53% and amounted to 8.3 million travellers. Revenues performed even better last year, with Egypt generating $7.6 billion in tourism income, a jump of 125%.

Meanwhile, the lifting in December of a ban on Russian airlines ying to Egypt is also certain to boost arrivals. Tunisia enjoyed similar growth, with a 23% uptick in foreign arrivals, which amounted to 6.3 million travellers. Morocco, however, remains North Africa’s tourism star, with over 11.5 million visitors – a rise of 10% from 2016.

In the Middle East, most countries to grow last year. The top performer in the region is Saudi Arabia, which welcomed some 19 million of foreign travellers. However many arrivals are for the mecca pilgrimage. It’s expected that the opening of the Kingdom to leisure tourism will see growth from non-traditional markets in Europe and Asia.

Dubai confirmed its status as the Middle East’s largest international tourism destination, with 15.8 million travellers to the Emirate, up 6.2%. Abu Dhabi grew by almost 9.8%, while Oman received over three million international travellers (+5%). Israel also reached a record year in 2017 with 3.86 million travellers arriving by air and land, a jump of 26% over 2016. Only Qatar saw arrivals decline last year, a 23% drop due to the blockade of the country by some neighbours. Nonetheless, European arrivals in Qatar grew by 6.3%.

Photo: Desert and inland sea, Qatar.