A stream of cancellations, half-empty hotels and the prospects looking increasingly gloomy: Middle East tourism -- already battered by a year of intifada -- is reeling under the impact of the September 11 terror attacks reported AFP on Thursday October 18. "It is dead quiet," says Egyptian tourist industry professional Ahmad Abu Al-Wafa, describing activity at Egypt's sites since the hijacked plane attacks in New York and Washington.
According to the secretary general of the World Tourism Organization, Francesco Frangialli, the Middle East -- where most of the suspected attackers came from -- has been hit harder than the rest of the world by the slowdown in tourist activity.
"Worldwide reservations are down by 20 to 30 percent," but "for destinations such as Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and North Africa, they are down by 60 to 70 percent," he said on October 12. In Egypt, the tourism ministry has announced a drop of 18.2 percent in the number of foreign tourists in September 2001, against the same month the previous year.
Hotel occupancy levels slipped from 72 percent in September 2000 to 59 percent in September 2001, the ministry said, adding that the decline looked set to deteriorate over the coming three months. In 2000, tourism was the country's number one foreign exchange earner, netting some $4.3 billion.
It is a similar picture in Jordan, where hotel occupancy rates have dropped to 40 percent since the attacks from more than 70 percent during the summer. Also, the number of tourists dropped by 18.3 percent in September 2001, compared to the same month the previous year.
Americans made the most cancellations, down 58.6 percent in September compared with the previous year, followed by Europeans, down by by 51.6 percent, according to industry insiders. Ticket sales for Royal Jordanian airlines for US and European destinations fell off by 40 percent in September, with resultant financial losses estimated at $280 million.
In Israel, the results of the attacks in the United States have added to the effects of the unrest which has left nearly 900 people dead in a year, primarily in the occupied Palestinian territories. The head of Israel's hotels association, Avi Ela, said in a statement that it was "the worst crisis that the sector has known and things look like getting worse."
The year of the intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, resulted in a revenue shortfall of $2.2 billion, according to an estimate from the association. Over the past 12 months, direct earnings from tourism have only reached two billion dollars -- a drop of 52 percent over the previous year.
As for hotels, revenues tumbled 60 percent to $309 million, while the number of foreign overnight stays over the past 12 months was only 4.6 million against the previous year's 11.1 million. And the crisis has even impacted on the resurgent tourism of Islamic Iran.
According to one travel agent, 35 percent of reservations for Isfahan -- the main tourist destination in the country -- have been cancelled, mainly by Japanese and German tourists. There has also not been any compensation for the halt in flights by Swissair, which had been active in Iran, although industry sources say that has not meant a drop in foreign pilgrims, who visit the country's Shiite sites.
Also, the anti-US attacks do not seem to have affected religious tourism to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which still expects to receive at least 1.3 million foreign pilgrims in the fasting month of Ramadan, which starts in the middle of November.
In Dubai, the main tourist destination in the Gulf, hotel occupancy rates are running at between 50 and 60 percent, thanks to business and conference travel, one travel agent said. Another said air travel, which has dropped by 20 to 30 percent, should pick up in December when expats take off for end-of-year holidays. — ( AFP, Nicosia)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )