The number of tourists coming into the Middle East and North Africa has gone up from 24.2 million to 1.3 billion, according to the World Bank. Several countries witnessed a downturn because of the Arab Spring, others had a boom.

Syria’s tourism revenue was around 8.4 billion USD, in 2010, 14 percent of the country’s economy. In 2012, the year its civil war started, data from Syria disappeared. Although it has some of the oldest cities in Western Asia, such as Damascus and Aleppo, tourism in Syria has been greatly reduced by the civil war and its associated refugee crisis. Many former tourist attractions have been destroyed by shelling; flights by all major airlines have been suspended, and many major hotels have closed.

Meanwhile, the drop in Egypt’s statistics started in 2011. At its peak in 2010 the sector employed about 12% of Egypt’s workforce serving approximately 14.7 million visitors Egypt, and providing revenues of nearly 12.5 billion USD, as well as contributing more than 11% of GDP and 14.4% of foreign currency revenues. The 2011 Egyptian revolution, along with the series of 2012–13 Egyptian protests, have negatively affected tourism. Nevertheless, in 2017 Bloomberg said Egypt has “shed its years of social and political unrest” and made the top 20 list of 2017 travel destinations.

Tunisia as well saw a drop with the 2011 revolution, with its arrival numbers sinking to 5.7 million. However, things seem to be getting better with the tourism ministry registering more than three million visitors in the first half of 2018, surpassing arrivals in the first six months of the benchmark year 2010.

Even though there is a gap in the data about the United Arab Emirates (UAE) between 2006 and 2011, it witnessed the highest rate of change at 794%. The change falls in line with the UAE’s economic development.

Iran followed the UAE, at a 757% increase rate. Tourism in Iran is diverse, providing a range of activities from hiking and skiing in the Alborz and Zagros mountains, to beach holidays by the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. The Iranian government has been making concerted efforts to attract tourists to the various destinations in the country and arrivals have increased during the past few years.

Qatar, which is not a prominent tourism destination, saw a 630% increase in arrivals since 1995.There is no data from Saudi Arabia from 1996 until 1999. The prominent Muslim pilgrimage destination holds second place in the total number of arrivals throughout 12 years, with 221,461,000 people traveling there.


Before joining InfoTimes, Aya reported for Egyptian Streets, and before that, for Daily News Egypt. She has also written for various local and international media platforms, such as Foreign Affairs, The National, and Al-Monitor. Aya holds an MA in Global Communication from Simon Fraser University.

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