Figures reveal impact of terrorism on tourism to Muslim countries

Figures reveal impact of terrorism on tourism to Muslim countries

Egypt is suffering the full force of tourism slump to Muslim-majority countries in the troubled Mediterranean region.

The number of foreign tourists dropped 46.5% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2016, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation.

The dramatic decline in tourist arrivals follows an explosion on a Russian Metrojet Airbus after take off from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh last October.

The bombing, which killed all 224 passengers and crew and was claimed by Isis jihadis, added to the woes of a tourism industry already battered by fears over political instability and violence.

International arrivals were down 28.9% in the final quarter of 2015 in the wake of the incident. Tunisia saw tourist arrivals fall 18.7% in the first quarter, extending a 25.2% slide to 5.4 million visitors in 2015.

The drop comes in the wake of two terrorist attacks targeted at tourists in 2015, the killing of 38 foreign holidamakers in the resort of Sousse in June and an attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March that left 23 people dead.

Turkey has also seen an acceleration in the rate of contraction of its tourism sector.

UNWTO data suggests international tourist arrivals fell 9.9% year-on-year in the first three months of 2016 - with a 16.8% drop in revenues - exacerbating a 2.6% slide in the previous quarter, as the industry was hit by a catalogue of woes.

However, more timely figures from Turkey’s ministry of culture and tourism point to a 34.7% year-on-year slump in arrivals to 2.5 million in May, the Financial Times reported.

World Travel and Tourism Council president and chief executive, David Scowsill, told the newspaper: “Turkey is probably in the worst shape, with terrorist bombs, the migration crisis, the impact of the Syrian war on its border, the spat with [President Vladimir] Putin and finally the failed coup.

The WTTC believes that the economic value generated by Turkey’s travel and tourism industry will fall 3.2% this year, a sharp worsening of the 0.2% contraction it predicted in March.

Nevertheless, Scowsill argued there were reasons to believe Turkey might recover more quickly than either Egypt or Tunisia.

The feud between Russia and Turkey now appears to have been resolved and Russian tourists are starting to return.

And Scowsill said that past experience showed more “random” acts of terror, such as those targeted at the UK, Spain and France in recent years, tend to have less of a long-term impact on tourism than attacks specifically targeted at holidaymakers, as seen in both Egypt and Tunisia.

In the case of London and Madrid, tourism levels “returned to normal quite quickly”, he said, while countries in the same position as Tunisia and Egypt typically “take two to three years to recover”.

In Turkey’s case, the bulk of the bombings attributed to both Isis and Kurdish separatists have been directed at the Turkish people, military and police in Ankara and Istanbul, although a suicide attack in Istanbul in January, that killed at least 10 people, was directed at foreign tourists.

However, Scowsill said “the hotels and beaches in Antalya and Izmir are still in pretty good shape”, with those areas so far, at least, remaining safe.

“We expect [Turkish tourism] to rebuild quite nicely next year if there are no bombings in the tourist areas,” he said.

Portugal, Italy, Spain, Malta and Bulgaria are shaping up to be the biggest winners as tourists opt for seemingly safer locations, he added, with each seeing visitor numbers rise by between 20% and 35% so far this year.

Thailand is another country where tourism appears to be holding up well, despite a bomb attack on a Bangkok shrine in August 2015 that left 20 people dead.
 
Scowsill said that there were “a lot of cancellations from China and Korea” in the two months following the attack, but that by the end of 2015 “inbound tourism had hit record levels”.

Although it is too soon to know for sure, he did not believe a series of bomb blasts witnessed this month would have any meaningful impact on arrivals.

The WTTC believes the impact from the UK’s Brexit vote will be small this year, but significantly larger in 2017 when, “given sterling’s weakness and weaker UK macro consumer spending”, it predicts “a much weaker outlook for UK outbound departures”.

Developed countries such as Ireland, Spain and France could bear the brunt of this, given the high share of UK visitors in their tourism mix.

Among emerging economies, India, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey would appear to be most vulnerable, with UK visitors currently accounting for between 6% and 12% of international arrivals.

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