Turmoil at touristic destinations forced tourists to seek alternatives
KUWAIT: The threat of terrorism and its repercussions continue to affect tourist destinations and sources in the medium and short terms. Yet this did not affect the optimistic expectations of having the number of cross-border tourists reach 1.8 billion by 2030. Despite this, and in light of the quantitative and qualitative changes related to international and regional tourism, the studies department of the Leaders Group for Consultation and Development presents in its monthly report for June-July 2017 the important features of tourism under the current stage, particularly during the summer season, as follows:
1. Increased search for secure tourist destinations (traditional or new, be they states, areas or certain cities inside these states).
2. Increased need for energizing domestic tourism in many countries because of security tensions and political crises around the world.
3. The necessity for laying down international references that are concerned with travel, tourism and the hospitality industry – a set of advanced and unified standards to deal with results and reflections of sudden obstructions of tourist movements, such as cancellation of trips and reservations at the last moment for reasons beyond the control of passengers and tourists.
The following is a transcript of Leaders Group’s report that shows and confirms these features and directions:
Earlier, international reports spoke about political arrests, natural disasters and terrorism as the most negative factors that affect tourism in the world. That was true during the period of the effects of the Arab Spring at the start of this decade, but the last few years confirm the terrorism is now ahead of the rest of the factors as far as recurrence and quantitative indicators are concerned, with the possibility of an advancement of other factors related to the security of tourists, travel and transport, while pointing to the argument of car-ramming incidents as well as the failure of safety tests of towers regarding fire hazards.
Regardless of new things on the international and regional tourism map, many Arab touristic countries including Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia, in addition to Turkey and other traditional and emergent European destinations, are working hard to revive the movement of Gulf tourists to them, as they are the most important sources of tourism in the region with regards to their numbers, volume and rate of tourist spending despite the drop in oil prices, and despite domestic tourism development plans in some Gulf countries. Based on a World Bank report, we can estimate the rate of Gulf Cooperation Council citizens’ spending on foreign tourism at more than $67.1 billion.
Secure and easy travel
Whether the matter is related to the rise in the global number of tourists (1.8 billion), or the expenditure of Gulf tourists, especially in summer, it is clear that the greatest benefits from these two sources is no longer dependent on the readiness of host countries and traditional and emergent tourist destinations to develop their hospitality and travel industry. It depends, as it is known, on the ability to quickly deal with obstacles that affect tourism such as terrorism, political unrest, natural catastrophes and others.
They are also related to the necessity to pay attention to implementing priorities and safe, secure and easy travel standards of the World Tourism Organization that were mentioned in the closing official report of the organization’s technical council in its latest meeting that was held in Madrid in May, besides the priorities of the effects of technology on the tourism sector if we apply the time average to recover from tourism obstacles, according to what touristic countries went through lately. Regional and European destinations that were hit by terrorism since the start of this year will not totally recover before the start of next year, as terrorism comes, according to international reports in third place in obstructing and threatening tourism.
The estimated period for tourism to recover from it is around 13 months, maybe less or more according to the country’s ability to get out of the negative effects and restore confidence in its security procedures and the success of its marketing and plans, which must be extraordinary. But successive terrorist operations that target a country or city make the recovery process exhausting and difficult as well as costly, and this is true with a number of notable tourism countries that form an important destination for Gulf tourists.
Britain as an example
What was said above applies to tourism in Britain, which used to be one of the best destinations for Gulf tourists before the latest terrorist attacks. Tourism authorities in Britain had hoped to raise the number of visitors from Gulf countries by 2020 by 40 percent, especially since Gulf tourists top the list of tourists spending on shopping in Britain – double the average spending of other tourists. This formed an additional motive for British tourism authorities to encourage procedures for Gulf nationals to get visas following the drop of tourists to Britain because of the financial crisis that shook several Western and Asian countries that are traditionally exporters of tourists. This resulted at the time in increasing the number of visitors from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE between 2008 and 2013 at a rate that exceeded 35 percent.
Yet, terrorist attacks were able to disturb tourism more than once. The Brexit referendum on Britain’s exit from the European Union a year ago reduced the pound sterling’s value and contributed to a partial rise in the number of Gulf tourists, especially with the reduction of travel costs by 10 to 20 percent. But the resumption of terrorist operations during the year, starting with attacks in Westminster, then Manchester and London, then finally the suicide attack on London Bridge that was carried out by three terrorists that killed 10, and what followed in the form of car-ramming incidents, all led to a large drop in tourism.
The number of visitors to London’s tourist landmarks and entertainment centers dropped according to London police in the middle of June. Important touristic landmarks such as Madame Tussauds and a chain of entertainment centers spoke about a drop in “day trips” and deteriorating domestic demand, and worried about “the rate of visits by foreigners in the coming months”.
Besides that, the problem of the Grenfell Tower fire west of the capital where around 80 were killed, and the evacuation of hundreds of residential units and discovering the failure of more than 120 towers so far in fire safety tests confirms once again the important of the relationship of tourism with security and safety measures that are not only concerned with the security and safety of aviation. It is worth mentioning that the technical defects that hit British Airways computer networks at the end of last year and continued for days led to losses estimated at $190 million due to delaying thousands of passengers at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, and the payment of compensation to every passenger.
Britain, with these factors, seems to face many challenges that are not only concerned with the repercussions of terrorism, but also with restoring tourism confidence in travel and transport safety and security procedures. Statements of officials about tourism and promotion campaigns about the return of life to normal in areas targeted by terrorism, such as Manchester, are not enough to recover tourism soon, and this is why statistics of this summer season will not have much happy news as far as the increase in the number of Gulf tourists, or even others, to the United Kingdom is concerned.
Turkey: Multiple obstacles
Contrary to expectations, preliminary indicators confirm a major disappointment for those concerned with the Turkish tourism sector towards the results of the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, to a point where pessimism towards the entire summer season is present, which means the continued recession of the sector that used to make Turkey three years ago the sixth most important tourist destination in the world with 40 million tourists and creating around two million jobs.
Turkey is an example of an advanced touristic country, but it is going through several security and political factors that obstruct tourism at the same time: The shooting down of a Russian jet in Dec 2015 and an attempted coup in July 2016, in addition to terrorist attacks and blasts that were claimed by IS and PKK in wide areas of the country, including the attack on Ataturk Airport; then a nightclub attack that killed 39 persons on New Year’s Eve, including Gulf nationals; then Turkey’s involvement in the Gulf crisis, after being involved in the Syrian crisis from the beginning.
The number of tourists dropped significantly after all these events. Russian flights were suspended and Russians were kept from visiting Turkey for eight months, and the drop in the number of tourists from Russia continues, which represents along with Germany and United Kingdom the source of the majority of tourists visiting Turkey. Following hopes of Gulf nationals returning to contribute to reviving the sector, the accusation of Turkey interfering as a party in the Gulf crisis led to increased fear that Gulf nationals may refrain from visiting Turkey, along with an advisory by Saudi Arabia not to travel to Turkey as it did with Lebanon when tensions rose between the two countries, bearing in mind that the number of Saudi tourists reached last year reached 500,000.
There is no doubt that the sharp drop in German, British, Russian and Gulf tourists will not help recovery soon, as most recent indicators show that tourism in some popular Turkish areas is deteriorating day by day, even in attractive areas overlooking the Aegean Sea, which is considered one of the most important tourist destinations there. Some hotels have complained that the rate of bookings did not reach 30 percent during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday.
The new developments of tourism in Britain and Turkey as mentioned and analyzed in this report confirm the extreme sensitivity of tourism and its returns as a result of terrorism and other factors that are no less dangerous. The study of these two cases shows the variables of regional and international tourism destinations and the movement of tourists in the region and Europe, at least, are faster than any expectations, which requires the preparing of new tourist destinations that are safer and more attractive to Gulf and European tourists during summer and other holidays.
The differences between the two cases show that repercussions on tourism are dangerous each time terrorism and security circumstances are accompanied with political disturbances, and recovery becomes more difficult and takes a longer time. This means that alternative choices for Gulf tourists, be it Arab or otherwise, may become long-term, especially if those alternative destinations are able to develop their attributes and experiences in the field of hospitality, hotels and travel. Bearing in mind the many tourist destination were and are still being exposed to terrorism and disturbances, it is extremely important to deduce that strengthening domestic tourism remains one of the best choices and more secure and less costly for countries that export tourists, such as GCC countries.
It is also important for tourist decision makers at the domestic and regional levels and in specialized organizations to reflect daily on tourism movements with all their economic, security and cultural aspects. This requires close follow-up that goes beyond reactions in order to guarantee a better world for tourism and its benefits.