Chinese, Russians shore up Middle East tourism


Chinese and Russian visitors boosted Middle Eastern tourism last year following a 2016-slump as Europeans gave the area a wide berth on security fears, according to the World Tourism Organization (WTO). The Mideast region as a whole drew 58 million foreign tourists in 2017, a 4.8 percent rise on the previous year, the Madrid-based WTO said in its latest figures released midweek.

Terrorist attacks on tourist sites in Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey in recent years particularly hit the industry. But "over time, people forget and return," said Jalel Gasmi, head of Granada Travel Services, a tour operator attending the Fitur international tourism gathering in the Spanish capital. Despite the annual rise, Marcus Lee, heading the Welcome China agency, said the sector could not rest on its laurels. For Chinese visitors, security "is the first thing they ask about" beyond visa regulations and often poor flight connections in the Middle East, said Lee.

Turkey, meanwhile, is back in business after the fallout from 2016. Ankara is out to keep on attracting more visitors from Russia, whose tourists poured in during 2017, as well as neighbors including Iran and Ukraine. The downside, according to Turkish tour operator Ahmet Okay, is that the newcomers are likely to spend fewer tourist dollars than their European or U.S. counterparts. Tunisia is also on the way back thanks to a surge in Russian and Chinese visitors with a 23 percent rise in visitors last year over 2016.

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