The primary aim of the Arab league is to co-ordinate the aims of it’s twenty two members. However a recent meeting between it’s members revealed that there are huge differences in success when it comes to the tourism sector.
There seems to be two distinct experiences, which was highlighted during the summit in Bahrain. Ironically this is now probably the most successful, Arab tourism destination – something which would have seemed incredible a decade ago. The first point is that most of the North African nations, who have traditionally had strong links with Western tourists are still suffering the backlash of the Arab Spring. Tourists from Europe and North America simply haven’t returned in any meaningful numbers which has been devastating to many countries like Egypt.
The positive messages mainly came from the Gulf countries, who are seeing growth in many areas of tourist travel. They too are now trying to promote the heritage sector as well as the traditional luxury hotel holidays. They are also keen to try and bring tourists from their own countries, particularly as Arab tourists are typically some of the highest spenders in the world. Saudi Arabian tourists for example spend nearly 10 billion UK pounds abroad every year, a massive amount of money considering the numbers involved. Gulf countries are keen to try and keep some of that income back home and are looking at increasing the choice and options for local travellers.
The focus for them has been heritage, it’s what tourists from Saudi Arabia often seek, so they are building six major museums. There is also an extensive program of sponsorship for students to study abroad in places like the British Museum and the Louvre. The intention is to raise the standards in the heritage sector which has been ignored mainly in the past.
There are other issues for these countries to contend with and they focus mainly on democracy and politics. In many Gulf countries there is a distinct lack of freedom and even the internet is heavily censored and filtered. Western visitors often have to change their IP addresses like this video just to access standard sites or use application like Skype without issues –
Now of course, spending a few bucks on a proxy or VPN service like this might not be a big deal for someone spending a few thousand on a few days in a 5 star hotel in a Gulf state. But it is the concept and impression of the country over all which is likely to do more damage. Money and expensive hotels can be found in many places across the world too, freedom cannot.