Middle East tourism arrivals set to drop 6% in 2011

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The Burj Al Arab. (Getty Images)

The Burj Al Arab. (Getty Images)

Tourist arrivals to the Middle East are predicted to drop six percent this year due to the impact of the Arab Spring, a new report said on Monday.

The World Travel Market Global Trends Report 2011 said the region would see a 1.8 percent decline in incoming tourist receipts, without giving a total value.

The report, published in association with Euromonitor International, also said airlines would see a 10.3 percent drop in US dollar receipts while hotel income would fall by 3.6 percent compared to the previous year.

In 2011, political protests erupted across the Middle East amid calls for reforms and regime change, with clashes turning violent in some countries.

Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt ended with the ousting of their respective authoritarian regimes.

The report said both North African nations had started to reinvent themselves in a new democratic era although tourism revenues are still well down on where the were pre-uprisings.

"Despite the turmoil, the region is still a key market for tourism development because of its oil wealth, high disposable income, demographic growth and proven resilience to crisis," the report added.

On the potential to rebrand following the unrest, the report was pessimistic on the outlook for Bahrain.

While it rated Egypt and Tunisia as "strong" contenders for a tourism rebound, it said Bahrain, where uprisings led to sectarian tensions, was in a "weak" position.

However, it added that a key factor for Bahrain was to win back its annual Formula One race following its cancellation this year.

Bahrain is scheduled to host the fourth round of the championship next April 22.

The race is the country's biggest and most prestigious sporting event and would have been the season-opener this year, but was first postponed and then cancelled after months of debate and a failed attempt to reinstate it.

The report added that Bahrain's National Dialogue, set up in the aftermath of the unrest earlier this year, includes "the importance of a tourism revival".

Hotel developments are likely to carry on apace in the Middle East despite the uprisings with a total of 119 hotels set to be built in the Middle East/Africa region this year.

According to the latest data published by STR Global, year-to-date, 50 hotels have opened in the region supplying a further 9,663 rooms with another 69 hotels (15,420 rooms) in the pipeline for completion before the end of 2011.

During 2012, 131 hotels are planned to open with 36,205 rooms, it added.

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