A few Arab countries from the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), followed by widespread violent and non-violent protests, became involved in political turmoil after a wave of revolutionary spontaneous demonstrations in 2011. Many countries have been forced to withdraw from their control by popular demonstrations that have created immediate political changes. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, that was the case. The government has reacted harshly in the case of Syria to conflicts with extreme security measures and military operations. Civil protests broke out in other countries or took place on a small scale. This is the episode of the so-called Arab Spring which marks the end of the region’s long political stability.
Tourism is a source of direct employment, income and export sources for the recipient countries that allow access and relaxation of foreign-currency reserves. From the 1970s on, many Arab Mediterranean countries have focused their economic growth on tourism through the presence as an attractive source of natural and cultural facilities.
The aim was to promote employment and attract investment from abroad in the service sector. Many tourist resorts have been created and tour operators have been offering packages to attract international visitors to this region. The tourism industry has succeeded; its share of the European seaside tourism market has increased significantly and has enabled the large coastal regions to grow socio-economically. Most Arab nations, including those in the Arab Spring, have in fact reported significant growth rates in the 2000s, including the Egyptians, Yemen, Syria and Tunisia. In early 2011, however, this pattern abruptly stopped with the upheavals of the Arab Spring, and other alternative destinations in the area continued to grow.
The instability generated by the Arab Spring caused a shortage of financial resources, and thus, significant damage to the tourism sector and the loss of thousands of jobs. So, the Arab Spring actually aggravated the socioeconomic situation that motivated it. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), in 2010, just before the outbreak of the Arab Spring, the direct contribution of the tourism sector to GDP was 8.6% in Tunisia, 8.2% in Egypt, 8.2% in Syria, and 4.0% in Yemen. Countries like Tunisia and Egypt are well known tourist destinations, offering a large number of hotel beds as well as infrastructure for international visitors.
The basic structure of the tourism inflows for a sample of Arab countries that were strongly affected by the AS events. Destination countries are classified into three groups:
- Arab Spring countries (AS), the countries most affected by the AS and for which tourism data is available (Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen);
- Arab countries without AS events (ANS), namely those Arab alternative tourist destinations which have tourism data available and which are located in the MENA region but did not directly experience the AS (Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia);
- Mediterranean countries (MED), including European countries located in the Mediterranean region (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and Turkey).
The Decreases in Tourism in AS Countries Since 2011
Inbound tourism in Syria decreased by 40 percent in the first year. It can be seen that Egypt has also seen a large reduction in its number of tourists, accounting for 70 per cent of international tourist arrivals in 2010. In 2011, the most significant inbound tourism decreases were concentrated for Tunisia and Yemen, but before AS they were recovered in 2018.
Arab Alternative Destinations
Looking at the Arab alternative destinations, we can see that in other countries of the region, the AS has not had the same impact. After the ANS in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, incoming figures for tourism decreased while tourism arrivals in the rest of the ANS countries increased. Other Arab countries obviously depend on the geographical position of the AS. Inbound tourism, for example, has fallen 4% and 20% in Iraq and Lebanon after the AS, whereas Jordan’s incoming tourists have increased by just 3%. Such three countries share Syria’s border. On the other hand, inbound tourism has grown significantly by 35 and 27 per cent, respectively, in Algeria and Saudi Arabia.
Mediterranean Countries Show an Increase
All Mediterranean countries have shown an increase in average tourist arrivals after the AS, given the decrease in some Arabian countries. For example, there have been significant percentages of increases in tourist arrivals after the AS, from small countries like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Malta. In addition, large countries like Turkey, Spain, Italy and France have seen improvements, albeit not as high as the aforementioned smaller countries, in their statistics for tourism following the AS as well. It was the MENA nation which had the most benefits of the AS, Turkey, which has a large economy. Therefore, even if we must monitor other variables that could also influence international tourism changes, such as population or economic growth, in AS countries and some alternative Arab destinations, the AS tends to have adverse effects on the tourism sector. Conversely, in terms of tourism increases, some other Arab and Mediterranean countries benefit from the AS.
Largest Tourism-Origin Markets
Regarding the composition of tourism, for each AS country, we present the five largest markets of tourism. Egypt, with 46 percent of the market share of the AS countries before the crisis, is an important tourist destination among AS countries. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Germany are the 5 major tourist origin countries for Egypt. French tourism, followed by the Italian, German and British markets, was affected most by the AS (51 percent decrease). But after the AS, Russian tourism remained unchanged. Egyptian tourism comes from Germany and Russia for about a tenth.
The Arab Republic in Syria was known at least before 2011 as the second major tourist destination in the AS. Between 2008 and 2010, about 7.1 million visitors visited Syria annually, but that number decreased in 2011 by 25 percent to 5.3 million. About 78 percent of tourists come to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iraq from other regions. About 70 percent fewer tourists visited Syria from Saudi Arabia and 58 percent and 31 percent reduces the number of tourists in Jordan and Libya. Conversely, in 2011 Turkish visitors to Syria grew 40%. This is because the majority of Turkish tourists in Syria also have business reasons, since they could use cheap raw materials and cheap currency.
The majority (27%) of all tourists in Tunisia are Libyans, accompanied by French and Algerian tourists (18% and 15%). Tunisian tourism suffered a sharp drop in incoming tourists of 1,4 million compared to pre-Arab Spring rates. Italian people who that their journey to Tunisia by 51.8 percent were the most affected visitors, accompanied respectively by French, German and Algerian tourists. Conversely, the travel of Libyans to Tunisia increased by 1.6%.
In Yemen, unlike in other AS nations, tourism numbers after the AS have only dropped marginally (0.3%). This decline was moderated by a rise of 13.4% and 10.7% respectively in the numbers of tourists coming from Saudi Arabia and USA. In particular, AS greatly affected visitors from the United Arab Emirates, which declined by 29.3%.
The deterioration of the incoming tourism in AS countries has thus been illustrated by variations in the decline in travel between major European or MENA markets, potentially representing not only the consequences from the AS episodes but also other shocks that need to be taken into account.