Only a few days (January 17) before riots erupted in Cairo, the U.N. World Tourism Organization reported that Middle East tourism for 2010 grew by 14% - the biggest growth of any world region. The tourism ministries of Jordan and Israel both reported record-breaking numbers of visitors for the year. Faith travelers are a major growth sector for the region.
But what now? Will travelers hesitate to visit not only Egypt but its neighbors as well?
Veteran Middle East tour operators report business remains robust for Year 2011. In fact, availability of airline and hotel space is very tight in some months. Operators are shifting clients to itineraries that exclude Egypt, especially into Jordan and Israel. After all there’s so much else to see in both those countries that’s iconic – the pink stone city of Petra, Jerusalem, The Galilee, and Dead Sea resorts in both Jordan and Israel.
“In light of recent protests in Egypt, let me assure you that the tourism situation in Jordan is ‘business as usual,’” said Malia Asfour, director of Jordan Tourism Board North America. “Unfortunately, because many North American tour operators combine Jordan and Egypt together, Jordan’s tourism industry is naturally being affected by the combined itineraries. On a positive note, we are noticing in many cases tour operators are switching their tours to Jordan from Egypt and holding stand-alone trips to Jordan.”
Carol Egan, special liaison to ministers for Holy Lands Sun Tours - a subsidiary of Isramworld, a New York-based worldwide tour company - said her customized client groups are holding onto their 2011 travel plans and many others are initiating new trips.
“We are as busy as we’ve ever been,” said Egan. “There is a lot of interest in Israel particularly. “So they will not be disappointed, we urge people not to wait any longer to book for this year.”
Thus, the Middle East travel message is clear. You may want to keep the pyramids and Luxor on your faith bucket list for later – after all, they’ve waited for you for 5,000 years already. There’s however no good reason to postpone trips to other iconic sites in the region. Select reputable and experienced tour operators, talk to the national tourism boards of countries you want to visit, and carry on.
After all, it’s like His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan once said, “If there are riots in Cincinnati or Chicago, should that stop us from visiting New York or Boston?”
Don’t avoid one country because another is unsettled. Each is vastly different from the others, and there are really too many outstanding sites and experiences for any one lifetime.
Read more faith travel reports by Ruth Hill at Contemporary Christian Travel in the Washington Times Communities. And follow her on twitter.com/christiantrav.
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