Arab nations are looking to Chinese visitors to revive their tourism sectors, battered by security fears, and also need to develop homegrown tourism as a lifeline, ministers from the region say.
Bookings to nations in North Africa and the Middle East, which had been recovering after the Arab Spring unrest, fell last year following deadly attacks claimed by Islamic extremists in Tunisia and Egypt that caused foreigners to shun beaches and historic sites across the region.
However, visitor numbers from China to Egypt soared last year, despite a series of security blows to the nation’s key tourism sector, because the government began to allow charter flights from the Asian nation, Egyptian Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou said.
The number of Chinese visitors to Egypt more than doubled from 60,000 in 2014 to 135,000 last year, “in a year in which we suffered a lot,” he said at a conference on tourism policies in Arab nations at the FITUR International Tourism Trade Fair in Madrid.
In September, eight Mexican tourists were mistakenly killed by Egyptian security forces in the vast Western Desert.
The following month, a Russian airliner crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula shortly after taking off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.
The Islamic State group said it downed the aircraft and tens of thousands of foreign tourists, including some 80,000 Russians and 20,000 Britons, were stranded in the resort after flights were canceled for security reasons.
Egypt has also boosted promotion efforts in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab nations, leading to a sharp increase in the number of visitors from those nations and is doing more to promote domestic tourism, Zaazou said.
The nation is banking on the short memory of global travelers, who have been scared off and returned to the nation before, most vividly after the Luxor massacre in 1997 in which more than 60 people were killed, mostly Swiss and Japanese, he added.
“I believe 2016 will be the year tourists come back to Egypt and our part of the world,” Zaazou said.
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