International tourist arrivals through September were 20% above pre-pandemic levels - no other region had fully recovered.
The Middle East lost its tourism growth momentum once the Israel-Gaza War started in October. Before the conflict, the region was a star performer in the global tourism industry. Here are seven facts about Middle East tourism:
- The Middle East was the fastest-growing tourism region. International tourist arrivals through September were 20% above pre-pandemic levels, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. No other region has yet fully recovered — let alone surpassed their pre-pandemic level.
- Expanded air connectivity helped Middle East tourism growth. Dubai-based Emirates grew its network in East Asia with an interline agreement with Philippines Airlines. Low-cost carriers EasyJet, Ryan Air, Wizz Air, Transavia, and Vueling launched routes into Aman, Jordan.
- Trips to the Middle East were selling out with Western tourists. Tour operators G Adventures, Kensington Tours, and Intrepid Travel told Skift that sales for trips to the region were strong this year.
- Tour operators were investing in Middle East itineraries. “We actually launched the Middle East as a region this year a couple of months before this happened,” said Alex Malcom, founder of Jacada Travel, a private luxury tour operator. Now? “It’s frozen.”
- Israel was an outlier. Its tourism sector was still recovering from the pandemic. The country hosted 2.9 million tourist arrivals between January and October, according to Israel’s Bureau of Central Statistics. That was up from last year’s 2.1 million — but down 3.7 million in 2019.
- Tourism to countries uninvolved in the conflict has dropped. Trip cancellations for Egypt and Jordan spiked after the conflict, said Kensington Tours and Intrepid Travel executives.
- Governments acted to stop the cancellations. Egypt’s government has been offering financial incentives per flight landing in the city of Sharm el-Sheikh (which borders Gaza) and working with the tourism industry to stay committed to Egypt, Reuters reported in November.
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Photo credit: Petra, Jordan. Middle East tourism was strong until the war in October. Emile Guillemot / Unsplash