4.5 million tourists visited Israel in 2019, an all-time record that provides grounds for optimism in the future. Is this really a sufficiently high number for a country in this region, or is the grass greener, and the Mediterranean Sea bluer, on the other side of the border? Here is a look at the surrounding countries that tourists (other than those visiting Israel for religious or family reasons) consider in planning a Middle East vacation.
Israel has Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but the countries competing with Israel are not resting on their laurels; they are seeking to increase the number of tourists visiting them by means of far-reaching plans. Who is the regional recordholder? Who is still finding it difficult to attract tourists? To what extent will the competition become more challenging?
Egypt: Recovering and promoting each of its cities as a separate tourist destination
After years of declining numbers of tourists visiting Egypt, starting with the 2011 revolution in the country, 2019 saw a recovery. More than 13 million tourists visited Egypt, a country replete with tourist sites, up from 11.34 million in 2018, and 15 million tourists are projected for 2020.
The leading source of tourism in Egypt in 2019 was Germany with 2.5 million tourists, compared with only 707,000 in 2018. North American tourism to Egypt also increased dramatically, rising from 1.5 million in 2018 to 2.23 million in 2019.
Egypt, the Land of the Nile and the pyramids, recently announced that that it would intensify its tourist promotion on digital platforms in order to adjust "to technological changes in the general tourism sector." Its advertising slogan is People2People. Its advertising agenda will promote each city as a separate tourist destination, with an emphasis on the opening of the GEM (Grand Egypt Museum) Museum in Cairo in late 2020.
The opening of this 500,00-square meter museum put Egypt on center stage in a BBC report last week as a recommended tourist destination in 2020. Lexie Alford, who broke the Guinness record for the youngest tourist in the world visiting the most countries (196 countries by age 21), put Egypt at the head of her next destination ratings for 2020 in her recommendations for "Forbes Magazine."
Jordan: Growing, with a boost from Ramon Airport near Eilat
Incoming tourism to Jordan rose from 4.9 million tourists in 2018 to 5.36 million tourists in 2019, a 9% increase. The number of tourists who stayed overnight in Jordan was 4.5 million, 8% more than in the preceding year.
Jordan boasts a marketing campaign by its tourist authorities that sold 250,000 pass tickets entitling holders to enter 40 tourist sites, double the number sold in 2018. The ticket price varies from NIS 340 to NIS 390 (70-80 Jordanian dinars) according to the categories of the sites. The state's revenue from sales of these pass tickets soared to NIS 88 million (18 million dinars).
The pass ticket is part of Jordan's efforts to increase the number of its tourist visitors. These efforts include encouraging tourists to visit a variety of sites in different genres, and especially to extend the length of their stay in the country - a goal that every country should share in order to increase its revenue from tourism.
Jordan was able to leverage an event in late November, when British band Coldplay launched its new album with two shows in Amman. The main sources of tourism to Jordan are Spain, Italy, Germany, and France.
Jordan plans to step up its activity with tourists from Europe. Low-cost airline easyJet has begun operating direct flights from London to Aqaba. UK newspaper "The Independent" included Amman as one of the 10 cities it recommends for tourists in 2020.
Whether or not there is a connection, easyJet has cut its direct flights to Ramon Airport. Other carriers flying there, which operate during the winter season (from October until March) and are mostly run by low-cost airlines, are designed to bring tourists to Eilat. The airlines receive a €60 per passenger subsidy for these flights. Not all of the tourists arriving on these flights, however, stay in Eilat. 15% of the tourists landing in Ramon Airport continue on to Jordan and Egypt. The airlines also receive a subsidy from the Israel Ministry of Tourism for these tourists.
Lebanon: Tourism treading water
The region's weakest link in tourism is the small country on Israel's northern border. Just over two million tourists visited Lebanon in 2019. 30 years have passed since the Lebanese civil war, but its reputation is still driving tourists away, despite the country's 240 kilometers of beaches and Beirut's fame as an entertaining city full of museums and culture. The largest source of Lebanon's incoming tourism is Saudi Arabia, which also spent $1 billion on rebuilding Lebanon's economy.
Lebanon benefits from winter tourism because of its comfortable climate. Following a report in "The New York Times" last August, Lebanon can bask in pride at being named as a recommended tourist site, given its small size (two hours journey from end to end) and the diversity of its landscape, from beaches to green forests and a snow-covered mountains (sound familiar?).
Lebanon, however, was shortly afterwards the subject of a more severe travel warning by the US authorities against visiting the country stating that there was a risk of violence.
The main source of Lebanon's incoming tourism is the Persian Gulf states, but the country lusts after European tourists. The average stay in the country of a European tourist is lower than the ten-day average for tourists from the Persian Gulf, but according to figures from the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism, Europeans spend more, beginning with the more luxurious hotels that they choose, and extending to other spending.
Lebanon markets itself as a destination for 365 days a year, and brands destinations in order to attract specific tourists: skiing tourists, nature tourists, beach tourists, and even ecological tourists.
Cyprus: Disappointed and blames the Thomas Cook travel agency's collapse
3.97 million tourists visited this small island in 2019, a number that the Cypriot tourist authorities consider disappointing - only 1% more than in 2018.The Cypriot Ministry of Tourism called 2019 a challenging year, but said that there was no reason for panic.
The number of tourists visiting Cyprus in the past three years grew, but this growth has halted as a result of several factors. Among other things, Cyprus blames the 2019 collapse of UK tourist agency Thomas Cook, because the UK accounts for a third of Cyprus's incoming tourism.
Another reason cited by the Cypriot minister of tourism at a recent press conference was competition from Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco, which are gaining ground as tourist destinations. He also mentioned the termination of several air routes to Cyprus, which halted the growth in tourism.
Looking ahead to next year, Cyprus will focus on additional markets beyond the two main markets from which tourists visit Cyprus: the UK and Russia. The Cypriot Ministry of Tourism believes that these two sources have exhausted their potential. The countries targeted by Cyprus in the coming decade include the Scandinavian counties, Belgium, and France.
The UK, which was very busy with Brexit last year, accounted for 1.3 million tourists to Cyprus in 2019, 33.5% of the total. 781,000 tourists came from Russia (18%) and 293,000 from nearby Israel (7.4%).
Another growth engine that Cyprus is aiming at is tourists coming on cruises anchoring in Limassol Port. Like many other countries, Cyprus will market itself as a destination for different groups according to age group changing needs for diverse areas of interest, not merely as a destination for beach tourism.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 23, 2020
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