Tourism Year 2019: Shining Middle East and Growing Africa

2019 was a good vintage for Africa and the Middle East. The whole African continent saw international tourist arrivals growing by 4.2% last year while the Middle East remained the fastest growing region with 7.6% more tourist arrivals.

In the past two decades, international tourist arrivals to Africa and the Middle East have grown quicker than the world average. Between 2000 and 2019, world international tourist arrivals grew by almost 115%, from 680m to 1,461m. However, Africa saw its tourist arrivals jumping by 172% during the same period of time from 26.2m to 71.2m while the Middle East is the top winner with total international tourist arrivals skyrocketing by 185%, from 22.4m to 63.9m.

In 2019, both regions recorded a deceleration in growth. While tourist arrivals had grown by 8.2% between 2016 and 2017, peaking even by 8.5% between 2017 and 2018, last year’s growth was down to 4.2%.

African countries have been reaping the benefits of policy changes to open tourism, which is now considered an important economic factor. Many African countries,  such as Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya or Namibia, relaxed visa policies over the past two years, with simplified visa-on-arrival procedures.

Africa figures

Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia also introduced free-visa schemes for Chinese visitors. It is thus no coincidence if North Africa recorded the highest growth rate in the region, with arrivals jumping by 9.1% last year after 14.1% in 2017 and 11.1% in 2018. Long established destinations such as Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia have, over the past decade, adopted open-sky policies, allowing low-cost airlines from Europe to operate.

By the same token, countries in the Middle East embarked on a relaxation of visa regulations, linked to ambitious plans to turn their countries into air gateways for the rest of the world. The UAE — particularly Dubai — were the first to embrace tourism-friendly policies. This has since been matched by Bahrein, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and recently Saudi Arabia. At the end of last year, the Kingdom announced new rules for travellers, with e-visa provided to 49 nations and a relaxed dress code for travellers. Saudi Arabia hopes that tourism will contribute to 10% of GDP by 2030.

Middle East figures


8.5% GDP and 25 million jobs: the contribution of tourism for Africa in 2018 although the market share of the continent in global international arrivals reached only 4.9% last year.

Between +4% and +6%: This is the estimated growth in international tourist arrivals as predicted by UNWTO in January for the Middle East in 2020. The estimation makes once again the region one of the fastest growing in the world.

Photo: © Pankaj & Insy Shah