Things can change very quickly in travel. Geopolitics plays a big part in deciding a destination’s popularity. With Spain undergoing its own problems, and fewer terrorist incidents taking place in North Africa and the Middle East, the tourist spread is starting to rebalance itself.
Every summer, millions of European tourists head abroad for two weeks of sunshine with those living in the north of the continent — think the Nordics, UK, and Germany — likely to seek warmth outside their home countries. France, Portugal, and, Spain have long been the dominant destinations, but over the last couple of decades, mass tourism has been growing on the southern and eastern fringes of the Mediterranean. Cheap flights and accommodations have made Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia appealing to those on a limited budget.
Over time, they all rose in popularity. But during the past year and a half, this trend reversed. For slightly differing reasons, all three countries have suffered from lower numbers, as many potential foreign visitors decided it was just too much of a risk to visit. In all three countries, tourism has been a huge contributor to overall gross domestic product; more recently, reduced numbers have meant depleted receipts.
Slowly, though, things look like they are getting better. Much of this can be attributed to a combination of internal and external factors. But it will be a long time before the countries fully recover.
The threat of terrorism has been a major deterrent — not without cause. In two separate attacks during 2015, 60 people, mostly tourists, were killed in Tunisia. Travel companies were quick to pull their programs and, two years later, some are only just starting to go back.
Turkey has periodically had to deal with terrorist attacks over the last couple of years as well as an attempt to topple the government in July 2016. Egypt is still suffering from the downing of a Russian aircraft carrying 224 people in October 2015, which followed years of violence and unrest. Russia and the UK still ban flights to the popular Egyptian tourist destination Sharm El Sheikh, though Russia recently announced intentions to restore flights to Cairo.
Social media and a 24-hour news cycle magnify such events, making the impact on tourism much greater in the short term.
In 2016, Turkey saw the number of foreign visitors fall by 30 percent to 25.4 million, while in Egypt tourist arrivals dropped from 8.1 million to 4.8 million. And although Tunisia saw a 6.8 percent uptick in arrivals at its borders that year, it recorded a 3.8 percent decrease in tourist receipts.
An Uptick in Visitors
It is easy to imagine tourists never returning to these once-popular places, but slowly they have come back — in part due to problems elsewhere.
Spain was one of the main European countries to see a sharp rise in tourism in 2016, which continued into 2017. But a recent series of events has cast a shadow on inbound travel, prompting some to question whether its growth can be sustained. First, there was the growing anti-tourism movement in places like Barcelona and the Balearic Islands, where locals are concerned about the exponential growth of the visitor economy. Second, there were the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, which killed 16 people. Finally, there is the ongoing uncertainty and unrest surrounding the potential secession of Catalonia.
All of these things might make people think twice before booking their holiday to Spain in 2018. Cost is also likely to have an impact. Earlier this year, one of Europe’s biggest tour operators, Thomas Cook, said that growth in Spain had been limited because of competition and higher hotel costs. Some people had suggested that Spanish hoteliers had become greedy because of a perceived lack of competition.
In 2018, things look likely to change. Visitor numbers in Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey came back strongly in 2017 and increased demand is likely to see tour operators such as Thomas Cook and market leader TUI add more flights and secure more beds in 2018. All three of these destinations are likely to be much less expensive than Spain, making them more affordable for people who like to book a package holiday.
Governments are also offering assistance to companies that can deliver tourists. The Turkish government handed out subsidies to some airlines flying into the country, and Egypt offered a similar incentive.
This is likely to spur more tourism to countries few Europeans wanted to visit in 2015. In a country profile report on Spain, research firm Euromonitor noted: “The recovery of competitor countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, and even a better situation in terms of terrorism within neighboring countries in Europe, is likely to reduce arrivals to Spain. Overall, the affordable prices of such Mediterranean destinations are likely to allow them to offer fierce competition when the security and geopolitical issues are alleviated.”
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Photo credit: Destinations like Turkey and Egypt are becoming popular once again with European travelers. Bett Norris