Trouble spots of 2011 to woo back tourists


Trouble spots of 2011 to woo back tourists

Trouble spots of 2011 to woo back tourists

Thursday, January 19, 2012
  • pyra
Tourism is Egypt's biggest industry but was down by a third in 2011.

MADRID: Tunisia, Egypt and Japan are working hard to lure back visitors who steered clear of their countries last year due to civil unrest and an earthquake, officials said at a world tourism fair.


Popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt ousted long-term rulers but also scared off tourists from the popular north African sunspots, while Japan's earthquake and tsunami in March and a subsequent nuclear alert had the same effect.


Their representatives at the FITUR fair here that opened Wednesday said they were holding out for better times in 2012.


"We are starting from nothing, so anything more will already be a success for us," said Leila Tekaia, a representative of Tunisia's tourism authority in Spain.


"We have lost 30 to 40 per cent of tourists. The Spanish market is the one that has caused us the most difficulties. It has fallen 60 per cent" as Spaniards have turned instead to the Canary Islands or Turkey, she said.


Tourism in Egypt took a battering as protests on Cairo's Tahrir Square and clashes between protestors and security forces were beamed around the world during an uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak.


"We have lost 90 per cent of our work and let go 40 per cent of our staff," said Gihan Hamed, director of specialist Egypt travel agency Galaxia Tours.


Egypt's tourism ministry said tourism to the land of the Pyramids was down by a third last year.


"On July 1 we will have a new president and we would like to think this will mean a return to normal. That is the theory. We will see," said Hamed.


"We tell people that our daily lives are not affected, that Tahrir Square is very small and Cairo is very big," she added.


"I live there with my two sons of nine and 11. If they are safe there, that means that tourists can come back."


Japan meanwhile suffered as tourists were scared off by the earthquake and alarm over damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant. It saw visitor numbers fall by 29 per cent up to November, according to provisional figures.


"I imagined it would be like this, about 30 per cent less, just after the earthquake," said Koichi Miyazawa, head of the Japan tourism bureau in Paris, adding that tourism accounts for about five to seven per cent of Japan's gross domestic product.


"We are doing a campaign on the best season in Japan -- spring," he added.


"We hope we can make a recovery to the point of 2010, but the reality is very severe."


The number of visitors to Europe surged in 2011 as civil conflicts drove many tourists away from sunspots in the Middle East and North Africa, the Madrid-based United Nations World Tourism Organisation said on Monday.


The number of visits to North Africa declined by 12 per cent and those to the Middle East fell eight per cent compared to 2010, while worldwide the number of international tourist arrivals grew by 4.4 per cent to 980 million in 2011.


Libya, where dictator Moamer Kadhafi was toppled and killed in October, and Syria, scene of a bloody crackdown against dissent in recent months, did not have stands at FITUR, which runs until Sunday with 200,000 visitors expected.


Signs of hope are appearing in Tunisia, its tourism representative Tekaia said, however. A year on from the coup that toppled leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, she is seeing group bookings pick up again.


"We are in an ideal condition now. We now belong to the club of democratic countries. We share the same values of justice, human rights and freedom of expression," she said.


"Now our job is to work on our image. We have to win back people's confidence and reassure them."