Glimmers of hope for travel to North Africa and the Middle East?

14 February 2012

Source: K BullockThe scenes of the carnage in the streets of Homs in Syria this week are likely to have curbed our appetite for travel to this part of the world which is sadly what Egypt and Libya need right now in order to rebuild their broken economies. With youth unemployment now nearly 50% in Egypt, the country is desperately in need of its tourists. I have read stories of abandoned, starving animals which used to carry the tourists around the temple sites and I’m sure the plight of the people is just as bad.

It was therefore of no surprise to read in TTG this week that TUI has seen its North African volumes down 23% on last year.  As TUI decreases capacity in the region and switches to the Canaries, the plight of the region is of real concern.

Thomas Cook may be wishing it had not spent $249 million dollars in 2008 on a majority stake in the Middle East and India region. This allowed it to regain control of the 'Thomas Cook' name it had originally licensed to the Dubai company in 15 countries across the Middle East as reported by Travelmole.

Thomas Cook has recently announced its decision to sell its Indian operations as reported by TTG which will be an end to a huge piece of history and I hope that their precious travel archives are still in tact. Thomas Cook results as reported this week by Travel Weekly show that they are only 2 percentage points behind TUI and are only 1% down overall, thanks to an 18% increase in their independent and specialist bookings.

I was at the Business Travel and Travel Technology Shows this week and as you walked past the stands all I could hear were comments of tough trading conditions. I had a look at UK outbound trends over the past few years and was rather concerned to see that UK outbound travel had decreased for every quarter since 2008 apart from Q2 last year.  Several comments I heard were “I’m afraid of which company will fail next” as one operator had already lost a huge amount with the collapse of Goldtrail leaving the Air Travel Trust with a deficit of £42.3 million in 2011.[1]

Source: International Passenger Survey

UNWTO has been quite optimistic in forecasting between 0-5% growth in international arrivals for the Middle East region in 2012, especially when you look at the decline in 2011 shown below.

Source: UNWTO

However I had a closer look at UK resident outbound trends to the region over the past   three years and travel to Morocco and Tunisia had been holding up.

Source: International Passenger Survey

The chart below shows the glimmers of hope as UAE and Israel increased their inbound UK traffic over the Q1-3 period 2011 from 2010.

Source: International Passenger Survey

What is clear is that it has been a tough twelve months for this region and we hope that stability returns to Syria.

Today’s Economist[1] provides little hope that things will be less violent there but we can take comfort from some of the recent increases in UK travel to UAE and Israel.

[1] The Economist February 11th “How to set Syria free”

[1] Source: TTG Digital   

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