How Hard Has COVID-19 Hit Tourism in These Arab Countries?

Published November 25th, 2020 - 02:30 GMT
How Hard Has COVID19 Hit Tourism in These Arab Countries?
People from around the world remain largely cautious of the possible risk of contracting the coronavirus. (Shutterstock: Lithiumphoto)

In a region so rich in culture and historical sites dating back to thousands of years ago and representing numerous ancient cultures and nations that called it home, tourism has always been one of the most vital sectors to most Arab economies. Yet, the coronavirus pandemic has mercilessly ravaged travel and deeply affected the industry through which millions of people make a living.

Ever since it broke out in the early weeks of 2020, COVID-19 has had a direct impact on countries' decisions regarding travel, whether through international routes or even individuals' ability to move within their own cities.

Pressured by recommendations of halting unnecessary travel and imposing full or partial lockdowns, governments are now reporting disastrous financial consequences, ones that didn't slow down during the summer, when travel restrictions were eased, as people from around the world remain largely cautious of the possible risk of contracting the coronavirus.

According to a September 2020 report published by the Arab Tourism Organization, the Arab tourism sector makes up about 11.4% of the global market. Moreover, the report estimated the number of international travelers to the Arab world to drop by -60% to -80% during 2020.

In Egypt, the country where tourism makes up about 15% of the national economy, the pandemic has deeply affected the industry. Despite very promising hopes for 2020 initially, as Egypt was preparing to open the Grand Egyptian Museum to be the world's largest archaeological museum, international tourism plunged by over 98% during the month of May, costing Egypt more than a billion US dollars a month.

Similarly, the Jordanian economy largely dependent on tourism has felt the direct impact of COVID-19, as visits dropped by over 75%, costing the national economy more than $100 million until the month of September. 

Jordan too had set very ambitious plans for tourism before the pandemic broke out earlier this year, which had urged the Jordanian government to support its 2020 tourism budget by a 23.7% raise.

In Oman with many historical and natural attractions, hotels reported a 50% fall of bookings during the first half of 2020, as the country saw its visitors' population fall from more than 800k tourists in 2019 to just about 400k in 2020.

However, the travesty suffered by the Lebanese tourism sector can't be only attributed to COVID-19, as the country had already been suffering from a severe economic crisis that resulted in the local currency devaluation of more than 70%, in addition to political instability and nationwide protests that had started in October 2019.

The country's tourist industry which makes up about 20% of the local economy has been reporting a 60%-70% decrease in numbers of visitors, even before the Beirut port blast that devastated the capital city last August.

Despite being one of the region's most powerful economies, the UAE has also seen a sharp drop in tourists during the year due to the coronavirus. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development's (UNCTAD) latest forecast, the pandemic might cause the Emirati tourism industry about $30.5 billion, amid hopes of a fast recovery in 2021.

The situation isn't any better in North Africa, as Tunisia has reported an overwhelming fall by about 90% of tourists during the year, especially that the country had completely halted international travels between March and June. Only a few months after the country celebrated hosting 9 million tourists in 2019, Tunisia's numbers between January and August point to only about 70k visitors. 

In another North African tourist spot, the Moroccan Minister of Tourism revealed that tourism has plummeted by 78% during 2020, costing the national economy more than $2 million.

However, hopes are on the rise of a 2021 recovery, especially after the success of a number of vaccine trials so far, all promising a new, more relaxed life, which could revive the tourism industry more than other sectors, especially as millions of people around the world want to leave their homes and enjoy the freedom to travel again, which could recreate millions of jobs and help rebuild global economies at a faster pace.

Have you been able to travel throughout the COVID-19 crisis? Do you think 2021 will be a more successful year in terms of travel plans? Where would you like to go on your first trip post the pandemic?

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