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Tourist numbers to Dubai continue to grow in 2019

Comments (0) Business, Featured

When you look at most cities in the world that serves as major tourist destinations, they tend to have long and illustrious histories. London and Hong Kong both have histories dating back 2,000 years or more, Luxor dates back over 5,000, and Athens some 3,500 years. But Dubai is very much a modern city in every way with little in the way of history, so it was very much a sandy tabula rasa for the rulers to write their ideas and dreams on. 

Although Dubai has brief mentions in the annals of travellers and traders as far back as the 11th century, it was little more than a waypoint though the general area was popular for pearl fishers. The Al Abu Falasa dynasty founded Dubai proper in the early years of the 19th century and one early historical footnote of interest is the signing of the “General Maritime Peace Treaty” between several of the regions sheikhs and the British government which was the first formal denunciation of slavery in history. 

In 1892, Dubai became a British protectorate, with tax exemption granted to foreign traders in 1894. By the early years of the 20th century, the Sheikh of Dubai had convinced a British steamship company to make Dubai a port of call, perhaps the first real hint of the city’s future. The merchant class gained strength with Dubai cementing its position as the main – and busiest – port in the Gulf, and they continue to be at the heart of the city’s political and power structures.

Dubai had a lean period between 1920 and the late 1960s with economic blows from the collapse of the pearl industry, the Great Depression, and World War II. This period was marked not only by poverty but by political unrest and instability. 

Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum : the Modernisation and Revitalisation of Dubai

Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum became ruler of Dubai in 1958 and it was he who was the driving force behind the modernisation and revitalisation of the city. The United Kingdom’s announcement in the late 1960s that they were withdrawing protection led to the foundation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971 in order for the small kingdoms to work together in defence and economically. 

But it was oil that was the real game-changer for the area but for Dubai in particular. With the discovery of oil in 1966 and the first shipment in 1969, the ruling family now had the funds to start realising their visions for the city.

Emirates Airlines has played a big part in the growth of Dubai. It operates over 3,600 flights a week from Dubai and the geographical location of Dubai has helped it become the major hub for many long-haul flights. The government saw that people looking to break up 15-25 hour flights offered huge potential tourism wise and billions of dollars were pumped into that area. They also realised that as oil production slowed down in the early 1990s – not to mention the constantly fluctuating prices – they need to diversify in order to survive and grow. 

A New Record of 16.73 Million of Tourists

That diversification has seen Dubai become not only a major tourist destination but also a regional centre for finance and real estate. Its diversity is perhaps underlined by the fact that some 90% of its population are foreigners, with many seeing the rich emirate as an ideal hub for many types of businesses.

2019 was a record year, with visitor numbers rising 5.1% from the previous year to a new record of 16.73 million. India keeps its top spot of providing the most visitors, with just under two million tourists, and Saudi Arabia and the UK stay 2nd and 3rd respectively. Omani tourists saw the biggest jump with a 24.3% increase in visitors from 2019. 

So why do so many tourists continue to flock to Dubai? As mentioned, a major factor is the city’s location combined with the routes flown by Emirates Airline. Many people initially chose to just have a one-day layover in the city to break up their long haul flights and to reduce the effects of jet lag. But now, the average length of stay is 3.5 to 4 nights, giving visitors an opportunity to sample some of Dubai’s many attractions. 

The Magnificence of the Burj Khalifa and the Splendour of the Burj Al-Arab

And this is where Dubai excels. They have taken a hot and arid desert with average temperatures that range from 25 degrees Celsius to the low 40s and turned it into an air-conditioned paradise for tourists and expats. The magnificence of the Burj Khalifa and the splendour of the Burj al-Arab (the world’s tallest hotel) continues to wow visitors. The Dubai Mall offers a cornucopia of shopping and entertainment choices and the Dubai Aquarium attached to the mall is one of the city’s most popular tourist spots. 

But not all the attractions are modern. The beauty of the Jumeirah Mosque is a must-see and the souks of Deira give a glimpse into Dubai’s merchant past. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is perfect for nature lovers and Kite Beach is ideal for those looking to soak up some rays or watch the spectacular kite-surfing. 

Dubai is a destination that offers something for everyone – if you can afford it – and numbers will likely continue to grow throughout the coming decade. 

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Foreign tourist numbers up 23 percent in Tunisia in 2017

Comments (0) Actualites

TUNIS (Reuters) – The number of foreign tourists in Tunisia rose by 23 percent in 2017 compared with the previous year, official data showed, indicating that a vital industry crippled two years ago by Islamist attacks is recovering.

Tourism accounts for about 8 percent of Tunisia’s gross domestic product, provides thousands of jobs and is a key source of foreign currency, but has struggled since two deadly militant attacks in 2015.

A total of 6.731 million tourists visited the North African country in the year until Dec. 20, data provided by the presidency showed.

The number of European tourists rose by 19.5 percent to 1.664 million, the data showed. The number of French visitors rose by 45.5 percent and the number of Germans by 40.8 percent in the same period.

The number of Algerians visiting rose by 40.5 percent to 2.322 million.

Tunisia’s tourism revenues rose by 16.3 percent to 2.69 billion dinars ($1.09 billion), data showed.

In 2010 Tunisia’s tourism revenues had hit a record at 3.5 billion dinars with almost 7 million tourists visiting.

The rise is helping the government weather an economic crisis as it plans to raise taxes from 2018, part of reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund in return for a loan package.

High unemployment has driven youth to seek illegal migration to Europe.

($1 = 2.4758 Tunisian dinars)


(Reporting by Mohamed Argoubi; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Louise Heavens)

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Bringing tourism back to the Middle East

Comments (0) Middle East


Long heralded as the must-see tourist destinations of the Middle East, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey are feeling the blow to their once prosperous tourism sector, as holidaymaker’s head to safer shores. Terrorist attacks, kidnapping and political unrest has seen a decline in tourism in the region, however, some countries are finding ways to bring the people back.

Saudi Arabian Islands Make-over

The recently announced Red Sea Project will see Virgin airlines founder and entrepreneur Richard Branson invest in turning 50 Saudi Arabian islands into luxury tourist destinations. This comes as Saudi Arabia announced its plans to turn 13,127 square miles of coastline into luxury resorts in early August. “This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history,” Branson said in a statement released by the Information Ministry. As one of the world’s most conservative countries, where alcohol is prohibited and women have only just been given permission to drive, Saudi Arabia is determined to change its image in the international community.

According to Arabian Business, since the appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman as successor to his father’s empire in June, the country has launched a media offensive aimed at pulling the country out of its dependence on oil and diversifying its revenue. The Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is headed by Prince Mohammed, will provide the initial investment to the Red Sea Project, with plans to start construction in 2019. Branson is the first international investor to commit to the project in what the ministry called “a clear sign that Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to international tourism.”

Egypt Partners with CNN

Egypt is also set to launch a tourism media campaign with cable television channel CNN, after visitor numbers fell dramatically due to the Arab Spring uprising, which overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and the Russian passenger jet which crashed in Sinai in 2015, killing all onboard. Russia, which was the number one source of tourists to Egypt, suspended flights to the country pending tighter security measures at Egyptian airports. In order to lessen the impact of these reports, Egypt will launch an advertisement to be aired on CNN’s weather forecasts in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to attract tourists during the winter season. International advertising and marketing agency J. Walter Thompson, said the aim of the campaign was to attract tourists in winter to Egypt’s consistently warm weather.

According to Egyptian news site Ahram Online, Egypt was receiving as many as 14.7 million visitors back in 2010. Before the Arab Spring, tourism represented 13% of the country’s gross national product, bringing in some $20 billion a year in revenue, according to government figures. In contrast, the first seven months of 2017 have seen just 4.3 million tourists visit the country’s historic sites and arid landscape. Although tourism revenue has increased in Egypt, for the same period, by 170%, reaching $3.5 billion, it is still nowhere near the pre-2011 figures.

Future of Middle Eastern Tourism

While travel and tourism sectors of the regions usually popular destinations have suffered, not all the Middle East has been badly affected. Certain ‘safe haven’ destinations have actually profited in recent years. According to figures from the UN World Tourism Organization, visitors from the UK have increased in the UAE. Dubai saw a 5% increase in UK tourists in 2016, and Abu Dhabi was up 3%. Russian tourists have also flocked to the country after visa-on-arrival was implemented, which saw a rise of 14%. Oman has also seen a steady growth in numbers from Europe, with Britain and Germany among the top five tourism generating source markets, followed closely by India.

According to Trade Arabia, London’s World Travel Market event, to be held in November, will expect to see a strong contingent of exhibitors from the Middle East. WTM Senior Director Simon Press said according to figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2016 the total contribution to GDP from travel and tourism in the Middle East was $227.1 billion. This figure is forecast to rise by 5.2% in 2017, and 4.8% per annum to make $381.9 billion by the year 2027. “There are exciting times ahead for the Middle East,” Press said.    

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2020 World Expo Dubai: a first for the region

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world expo dubai

The World Expo will be held in Dubai in 2020, meaning that the MENA & SA (Middle East and North Africa & South Asia) region will host the event for the first time. The Expo began in London back in 1851, and once every 5 years a new location plays host to the global event. Hosting such a prestigious event comes as a huge boon for Dubai’s continually growing economy, and marks a breakthrough for the region as a whole. The event demands a lot of planning, not just for the initial hosting, but for the long term use for all the investments.

A long road to completion

The process of securing the right to host the 2020 World Expo began back in 2011, when 5 cities made the final shortlist. These cities were Sao Paulo in Brazil, Yekaterinburg in Russia, Izmir in Turkey, and Dubai of the UAE. Dubai’s bid was titled “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, and in 2013 it was announced that Dubai had won.

The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) are the body responsible for selecting the winning bid, and after 164 member nations had voted, Dubai was the runaway victor with 116 votes.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said at the time “I am proud of our teams who earned this victory for Dubai with two years of hard work, dedication and commitment.”

The process to build the infrastructure for the Expo then began; as the 6 month event will see millions of visitors arrive, with the potential to generate an additional $40 billion of revenue for the economy, as 277,000 new jobs are created. The main site for the event is named Al Wasl, which means “The Connection” in Arabic, and the 4.38 sq km site will feature a 65 meter tall dome that includes a 360 degree screen to project images to the thousands of visitors.

Every nation that is appearing at the Expo will have its own pavilion, and there will also be 3 main pavilions for the central themes of the event, which are “sustainability”, “mobility” and “opportunity”. Contracts for the construction of these 3 key sites will be awarded later this year.

The UAE is only 45 years old as a nation, but the history of the people and the region is obviously far deeper. To try and illustrate this point, the 2020 Expo’s logo was based upon a ring that was discovered at a 4,000-year-old archaeological site in the Al Marmum area of Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed said that the logo “represents our message to the world that our civilization has deep roots. We were and will always be a pot that gathers civilizations and a center for innovation.”

Building for the Future

Many major global events lead to their hosts finding that they are left with large debts rather than long term growth. The Olympic Games and soccer World Cup have often proved a cost, rather than an economic boost, to their host cities. However, Dubai’s planners are confident that they are building for sustained growth.

Aside from the new jobs created to prepare for the Expo, the organizers say that 80% of the buildings created for the event will continue to be used once it has ended. An additional 28,000 hotel rooms will have been built by 2018, and this should help continue Dubai’s growing tourism trade.

In addition, major expansion of the Al Maktoum International Airport is planned to carry on after the Expo, with the works to finish in 2025. The 2020 Dubai Expo is also aiming to be the first one in which more than 70% of the visitors are from overseas, which should again help sell Dubai as a tourist destination to many people new to the region.

A new city is being built in the Dubai South region, a city which will eventually host 1 million residents and 500,000 jobs. Long term contingency plans for the various developments used at the Expo are in place, and already Siemens has announced that, from 2021, it will use Expo site as its global logistics base.

The arrival of the 2020 World Expo should dovetail well with the government’s Vision 2021 plans, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid has promised “to astonish the world in 2020.”

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Mauritius raises 2016 tourism earnings forecast by 1.8%

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

PORT LOUIS (Reuters) – Mauritius said on Friday that tourism revenue in 2016 will be 1.8 percent higher than it had previously forecast, after a surge in visitors during the first half.

Tourism is a valuable source of foreign exchange for the tiny Indian Ocean country known for its luxury spas and beaches.

Earnings from the sector are now expected to reach 56 billion rupees this year, up from an earlier forecast of 55 billion in May, according to Statistics Mauritius, an official body.

Last year, tourism earnings totalled 50.2 billion rupees.

The statistics agency also raised its forecast for 2016 arrivals to 1,250,000 tourists from 1,240,000. Visitors in 2015 numbered 1,151,723.

In the first half of 2016, Mauritius attracted 586,464 tourists, up 9.9 percent from a year earlier.


(Reporting by Jean Paul Arouff; Editing by Aaron Maasho and Dominic Evans)

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Bettering Benin: Improving the Tourism Sector

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

Pendjari National Park – Benin

Benin received a $50 million International Development Association credit to invest in its tourism sector that will, hopefully, add an additional 30,000 jobs.

In March 2016, The World Bank approved a $50 million International Development Association (IDA) credit to Benin to invest in its tourism sector. The IDA provides grants and zero-interest loans, via the World Bank, to the world’s poorest countries to increase business opportunities and, ultimately, reduce poverty and improve standards of living by improving various industries. The tourism industry is Benin’s second largest source of foreign exchange currencies and third largest employer behind agriculture and commerce. The investment is intended to reduce the vulnerability of Benin’s economy, given its high dependency on informal trade with Nigeria, and its reliance upon the cotton sector.

The five year project, Benin Cross Border Tourism and Competitiveness Project (CBTCP), is a part of longer-term 2013-2021 tourism plan. The overarching aims of the World Bank’s funding are to increase and improve the current touristic sites including the physical infrastructure, such as accommodation; to improve the skills of tourist-industry personnel; to effectively promote tourism through branding and targeted marketing schemes; and to improve the management of existing sites by reinforcing leadership frameworks. This project is slowly moving from conception to implementation: in mid-July, the government approved a decree that will establish the creation of the National Agency of Heritage and Tourism. The aim of this project, and its corresponding agency, is twofold. By increasing cross-border tourism and private sector investment, the World Bank hopes to move towards its goals of poverty reduction while boosting “shared prosperity.”

Benin capitalizes upon the ecotourism industry

Visitors to a cultural festival in Benin

Visitors to a cultural festival in Benin

Investment will occur in the country’s key tourist destinations, mainly Abomey-Calavi, Cotonou and Ouidah, and hopes to help more than 1,000 existing tourist firms. More than 20% of these firms are led by female entrepreneurs, a point which both the World Bank and government of Benin are emphasizing as part of a gender inclusive initiative. It is hoped that, by investing in these firms, more jobs will become available for both unemployed Beninese people, and for citizens currently working in less secure industries, such as the cotton industry.

Benin is poised to capitalize upon the ecotourism industry if it can appropriately monetize its natural resources into well-kept tourist destinations. In order to do so, however, Benin will have to make a concerted effort to appropriately allocate World Bank funds. The first step is to clean up the existing potential tourist attractions: Benin’s coastline has been damaged from decades of open defecation, lack of waste removal systems and failure of sanitation infrastructure to remove both human and manufactured detritus. It seems that, hypothetically, the newly created National Agency of Heritage and Tourism may be able create jobs for people both working directly in the tourism sector, and for people working on clean-up projects.

30,000 additional jobs

In fact, according to the World Bank Country Director for Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Togo, “if efforts are made to meet [Benin’s] potential, tourism’s direct contribution to the country’s GDP will be increased by up to 30%, and could generate an estimated 30,000 additional jobs.” Thus far, the tourism industry has failed to develop as rapidly as that of other West African nations, due in part to the inability of private tourism operators to apply for loans. As capital has become less concentrated with the proliferation of tourism providers, individual businesses have been unable to meet the minimum requirements in order to receive loans from local banks, let alone international financial institutions.

The CBTCP will encourage private commercial banks to extend loans to businesses that fall in the “micro, small and medium sized” enterprise (MSME) category. The CBTCP will use World Bank funding to mitigate creditor risks through “first-loss cover,” thereby shouldering some of the risk that banks have been unwilling to absorb.

The National Agency of Tourism and Heritage directly looked after by Patrice Talon

The biggest fear of both Beninese citizens and outside observers is that the funds will be inappropriately allocated without direct oversight: the National Agency of Tourism and Heritage is not, as one would expect, overseen by the Ministry of Tourism, but is directly looked after by the President, Patrice Talon. The government has not issued an explanation of why this is, but hopefully it will not cause any confusion in the allotment of resources.

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Kenya’s tourism earnings fall 3 pct in 2015

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s revenue from its tourism sector dropped 2.87 percent last year to 84.6 billion shillings ($837.21 million), its tourism minister said.

Visitor numbers and earnings have plunged in the past four years as al Shabaab militants from neighbouring Somalia launched attacks on Kenyan soil in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention.

Showing the depth of the fall, tourist arrivals fell from 1.8 million in 2011 to 1.18 million last year. The country earned 98.9 billion shillings in 2011 compared with the 84.6 billion shillings last year.

Najib Balala said the sector was on course for a recovery in 2018, in line with government plans, but cautioned that violent protests against the country’s electoral body could curb arrivals.

“A lot of people I meet are saying Kenya is maturing but when they see the incidents of the last weeks, they say we are going backwards,” he told Reuters on Monday.

“My concern is that, the efforts and the road map is working very well, I don’t want the political noise to interrupt that programme.”

Tourism is one of the main hard currency earners for Kenya.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government wants to bring in 3 million visitors a year according to its manifesto when it was elected in early 2013.

Efforts to revive the sector include boosting security, opening new source markets such as Nigeria and Poland and increased budgetary allocations to the sector.

Visitors are expected to rise by a third this year to 1.6 million and to recover to 1.8 million in 2018, matching a record high set in 2011.

($1 = 101.0500 Kenyan shillings)


(Reporting by John Ndiso; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Alison Williams)

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African Development Bank: Ease visa rules to promote trade, tourism

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured


Saying cumbersome visa requirements undermine business growth, the organization ranks visa openness of 55 nations.

Making access to visas easy or scrapping the requirement entirely is an important way governments can help promote tourism and trade among the nations of the continent, according to the African Development Bank (ADB).

The ADB has developed the Africa Visa Openness Index to assess which countries have the most open and efficient visa access. The bank says cumbersome visa procedures undermine doing business across borders on the continent.

On average, travel within the continent is often difficult because African nations are “more closed off to each other than open” the ADB said in its 2016 report (pdf) on visa access. “Free movement of people is not a reality across Africa.”

Most require visas in advance

The report said only 20 percent of the 55 countries in the index do not require visas and only 15 percent offer visas on arrival, meaning more than half require visitors to obtain visas in advance.

To make matters worse, the report said, many of Africa’s strategic hubs have restrictive visa policies while the continent’s small, landlocked and island states tend to be more open to promote trade links with neighboring countries.

The report said countries in West and East Africa tend to be more open than in other regions.

The top 10 nations for openness stand out, with an average score of 0.86 (out of 1) on the ADB index, more than double the overall average of 4.25.

Seychelles is first for openness

The top 10 countries are Seychelles, Mali, Uganda, Cape Verde, Togo, Guinea-Bissau Mauritania, Mozambique, Mauritius, and Rwanda.

At the bottom of the list are Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola, Gabon, Libya, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Western Sahara.

South Africa was 35th on the list, Nigeria 25th and Kenya 16th.

The report said eight of the top 10 countries for openness have seen gains in travel and tourism as a portion of gross domestic product.

In Seychelles, which is visa free, tourism accounted for nearly 57 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2014 and was expected to increase by more than 5 percent in 2015.

Rwanda, Mauritius ease requirements

The report highlights benefits to Rwanda and Mauritius after they adopted open visa policies for visitors from other African countries in recent years.

Both countries have seen an increase in African business and leisure travelers, which has produced “an economic impact that is still growing,” the report said.

After Mauritius relaxed visa requirements for visitors from 48 African countries, more than one quarter of visitors to the nation in 2014 came from other African states, with revenue from tourism totaling $1.2 billion.

“Greater visa openness forms part of Mauritius’ Africa strategy, which aims to promote the country as a gateway for investment into the continent,” the report said.

New open visa policies are also helping Rwanda with gross domestic product growth of 7 percent in 2014 and tourism income up 4 percent to more than $300 million.

Rwanda adopted a visa-on-arrival policy and cut its fee by half, to $30, then saw visits by Africans increase by 22 percent annually.

“We are seeing more African travelers not just in tourism, but in business,’’ said Francis Gatare, chief executive officer of the Rwanda Development Bank.

ADB wants visa requirements eased

The report notes that the African Union’s Agenda 2063 calls for removal of visa requirements across the continent by 2018 and creating an African passport.

Other potential solutions include offering visas on arrival, as Mauritius and Rwanda have begun doing, creating visa-free regional blocs or visas for regional blocs, offering multi-year visas, or offering visa-free access to Africans as Seychelles does.

Other way to make travel more is to offer eVisas so the traveler can apply online rather than having to be present to obtain a visa, the report said. Currently, nine African countries offer e-Visas: Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Questions about security

The report argues that more open visa policies will not undermine security.

“Having strong systems in place including biometric databases at border controls and joining IT systems with other countries and regions seems to be the answer. That allows information sharing and greater cooperation, which in turn minimizes risk and provides higher levels of security overall.”

The report emphasizes the importance of travel to the development of the continent in the coming years.

By 2034, air arrivals to destinations in Africa are projected to increase to 280 million from nearly 120 million in 2014.

That increase “needs to be matched by more visa-open policies on arrival on the ground,” the report said.

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Mauritius says tourist arrivals up 12.5% in Q1

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

PORT LOUIS (Reuters) – The number of tourists visiting Mauritius rose 12.5 percent in the first quarter of 2016 from a year ago, thanks to increased arrivals from Europe and Asia, official figures showed on Monday.

Tourism is a key source of hard currency for the Indian Ocean island state, which like other long-haul destinations in the region has turned east in search of visitors to compensate for weak growth in its traditional European markets.

Arrivals in the first three months of 2015 increased to 327,836 from 291,329 a year earlier, Statistics Mauritius said.

Numbers from Europe, which accounts for two-thirds of visitors, rose 18 percent to 199,525 as arrivals from France, the island’s main market, increased by 4.7 percent.

The number of tourists visiting from Asia rose by 7.3 percent to 49,289, helped by an 11.1 percent increase in arrivals from India.

The statistics agency expects visitor numbers to rise 6.7 percent to 1,230,000 this year.


(Reporting by Jean Paul Arouff; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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Tourism in Morocco down amid regional unrest

Comments (0) Business, Featured, Middle East

Casablanca Morocco tourism

While the North African nation is considered safe, instability in neighboring countries prompts decline in foreign visitors.

As regional unrest results in declines in tourist visits by Europeans, Morocco is attempting to attract more visitors from Russia, China and West Africa.

A visit by Moroccan King Mohammad VI to Moscow in March underscored the North African nation’s strategy of attracting tourists from outside European nations that have traditionally been major sources of visitors.

The Ministry of Tourism of Morocco is also in talks with airlines to open direct flights to that country from Russia and China.

Safety fears groundless

Tourism minister Lahcen Haddad said Morocco has lost tourists because of unwarranted fears about safety prompted by continuing unrest in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt as well as recent attacks by terrorists in Turkey.

“Morocco remains a very safe and secure country,” Haddad said. “But we need to do more to get that message across.”

A 2015 report by the Overseas Security Council also declared all areas of Morocco safe for tourists, citing mostly minor thefts as the main risk.

Tourist visits down 1 percent

The country’s tourism industry got a wakeup call in 2015, when total tourism revenues and tourist visits declined after a decade of growth.

According to the Treasury and External Finance agency, tourist revenue to hotels and restaurants declined by 1.3 percent during the first three quarters of 2015, following an increase of 3.3 percent a year earlier.

The agency said tourist arrivals at Moroccan border posts also declined by 1 percent in 2015 while these arrivals had increased by 2.4 percent to more than 10 million in 2014.

French visits drop by 7 percent

The largest decline has been among the French, who constitute Morocco’s largest source of tourism. French tourism to Morocco declined by 7 percent in 2015. The nation also saw declines in visitors from Spain, Italy and Belgium, while arrivals from the United Kingdom and the United States increased, according to the tourism ministry.

Tourism revenue in 2015 totaled about $6 billion, still a significant share of Morocco’s $100 billion economy. The sector employs about 400,000 people.

Like other countries in the region, Morocco experienced significant growth in its tourism industry between 2001 and 2011, according to Eurostat. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in 2010 and spread to Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain the following year, prompting varying degrees of unrest and instability that persists in some countries today.

Other countries see steep declines

Morocco has not fared as badly as some other countries in the region.

Egypt more than tripled the number of visitors to 14.7 million in 2010, only to see tourism drop by one third. Jordan, while stable, saw tourism fall by 17 percent in 2010 and 2011.

Turkey, hit by terrorist attacks, also experienced steep declines in tourism, which accounts for 15 percent of its gross domestic product.

As Europeans stay away, Morocco is pinning its hopes to expand the tourism sector on visitors from Russia, West Africa and China.

King Mohammad visits Moscow

King Mohammad visits Moscow

King visits Moscow

In March, a visit to Moscow by King Mohammad VI’s included talks about ways to encourage more Russians to visit Morocco as well as talks about providing direct flights to the North African country from St. Petersburg and Moscow.

In his first visit to Russia since 2002, the Moroccan king met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss bilateral cooperation in tourism, agriculture and energy. The two countries signed 12 agreements related to tourism.

The king also inaugurated an exhibition “Morocco-Russia: A shared ancient history,” which includes bronze objects from ancient Roman sites as well as Roman statues at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum.

Goal is 200,000 Russian visitors each year

Haddad, the Moroccan tourism minister, said the nation hopes to increase the number of Russian tourists five-fold, from 40,000 annually in 2015 to 200,000 by 2019.

“Russia offers us a big opportunity,” he said.

Haddad said talks are under way with Royal Air Maroc and Russia’s Aeroflot about opening new routes between Marrakesh and Agadir in Morocco and Moscow and St. Petersburg.

A 2014 plan to add direct flights between Morocco and China has not been implemented.

Morocco is hub for West African travelers

Meanwhile, Haddad said Morocco is a top hub for West Africans traveling to Europe or other countries in Africa.

Haddad said Morocco could attract as many as 160,000 visitors from West Africa if it can entice transit travelers to stay a few nights in Casablanca and visit attractions such as the medina and Hassan II mosque.

Morocco’s tourism industry is expected to get a boost later this year with more than 30,000 attendees at COP22, the 2015 global climate conference November 7 – 18 in Marrakesh.

Morocco has also started talks with European carriers about offering low-cost flights to Moroccan tourist destinations such as Ouarzazate and Errachidia, Haddad said.

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