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Sun 15 May 2011 12:46 PM

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Airlines try to boost Middle East tourism with summer deals

Airlines, tour operators offer discounts on flights and hotels in bid to tempt tourists after unrest

Airlines try to boost Middle East tourism with summer deals
Among the offers from the local airlines are buy-one-get-one-free deals on holiday packages

Middle Eastern airlines are offering discounts on travel into and around the region in a bid to restore confidence in the MENA’s tourism industry following a wave of political unrest

Airlines such as Emirates, Etihad, Air Arabia, Gulf Air and Royal Jordanian have slashed prices package deals and air fares to destinations including Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE.

“We have definitely noticed a trend,” said Basel Abu Alrub, managing partner of Dubai-based travel agency U Travel. “Gulf Air is offering great deals, especially to customers in Dubai and the UAE. They are trying to encourage more people to connect via Bahrain.

“Etihad and Emirates are also doing good deals on flights to places like Beirut. And hotel wholesalers are offering 50 percent off holidays in Egypt.”

Tourism industries in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Bahrain have been thrown into crisis after foreign embassies issued travel warnings and tour groups cancelled their trips.

In Egypt, where tourism is the backbone of the economy, the country lost $1.8bn in revenues between February 1 and April 5 as visitor numbers slowed to a trickle. The government said last week it would subsidise half-full inbound flights until October and offer cash benefits to travel agents in exchange for running marketing campaigns for Egypt.

In Jordan, the country lost an estimated $70m as a result of the Middle East unrest, according to government data.

Bahrain hotels and malls also witnessed a huge drop in visitor, driven by a slide in the amount of Saudi tourists who visit the country to enjoy its comparatively liberal culture. Five-star hotels in the emirate are offering rooms for BD49 ($130) a night in a bid to boost occupancy.

“The airlines have offered more deals this year than they did last year,” said Sunil D'souza, UAE and Oman country manager at Kanoo Travel. “And we shouldn’t forget that this is at a time when the high season is approaching, which is a peak time for the airlines when they shouldn’t need to have so many offers.

“There have also been a lot of promotions by the airlines on inbound flights to the region.”

Among the offers from the local airlines are buy-one-get-one-free deals on holiday packages, discounted flights and free hotel stays and sightseeing deals.

Abu Dhabi’s Etihad has slashed 40 percent off economy air fares for UAE and Gulf travellers during May, while Emirates has scrapped a fuel surcharge on air fares introduced in April.

The two airlines are also promoting stopover deals for travellers to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with Emirates offering heavily discounted package breaks and Etihad advertising free hotel stays for premium customers, and cut-price dining, golf and hotel deals in the UAE capital.

Low-cost carrier Air Arabia, meanwhile, is offering return flights to the UAE from other Gulf states for as low as AED740 to June 15, and Royal Jordanian has slashed air fares to Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.

“We are concentrating on special rates within the region to Sharm Al Sheikh and Lebanon, in coordination with the Jordanian tour operators,” said a spokesperson for the airline. “Royal Jordanian outstations are also selling RJ flights to Jordan, to increase awareness of it being one of the safest and most secure destinations in the Middle East.”

Europe’s second-largest tour operator Thomas Cook said in February the cost of cancelled trips to Egypt and Tunisia during a wave of Arab uprisings may reduce profit by about £20m.

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