Despite Terror Attacks, Tourists Are Flocking to Europe and the Middle East

So far this year, 2.5 million tourists came to Israel – 22 percent more than in the same period in 2016

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An Asian tourist posing in front of the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, August 7, 2017.
An Asian tourist posing in front of the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, August 7, 2017.Credit: Nariman El-Mofty/AP

Terror attacks have failed to dampen tourism in Europe and the Middle East, with both regions enjoying their highest tourist numbers this decade.

According to data published recently by the UN World Tourism Organization, there was an 8 percent rise in the number of visitors to countries belonging to the European Union in the first half of 2017, compared to the same period in 2016. Some 231 million tourists visited the various 28 EU states during the first six months of the year, the highest number since 2010.

Preliminary figures suggest that nearly 600 million tourists traveled the globe in the first half of 2017 – a 6 percent increase on the previous year. These are also the highest numbers in the past seven years.

Despite the geopolitical instability in the Middle East, the region marked the highest increase in tourists compared to 2016 – 9 percent. It was followed by Europe and Africa, which each enjoyed an 8 percent rise. They were followed by Asia (6 percent) and North America (3 percent). Usually, the first half of any year accounts for about 46 percent of all tourists for that year.

One of the countries that contributed to the uptick in Middle East tourism was Egypt, which saw a 50 percent increase in the first six months of 2017. However, these numbers are still way below the peak year of 2010, which was followed immediately the following year by the Arab Spring.

The Palestinian Authority also chalked up a significant increase in the number of tourists – in fact, the highest percentage spike in the world, according to UNWTO. Between January and April 2017, there was a near 58 percent increase in the number of tourists visiting the area compared to the same period in 2016, which saw 400,000 tourists arrive. If the rate of growth is maintained, the PA could finish the year with 630,000 tourists.

Israel also played a role in the increased number of tourists to the Middle East. Since the beginning of 2017, records have been broken monthly, compared to previous years. In the first nine months of 2017, 2.5 million tourists arrived in Israel – a 22 percent increase over the same period in 2016.

The prediction is that by the end of the year, the number of tourists to Israel will surpass 3 million, for the first time ever. In 2013, there were 2.96 million tourists and the expectation was that 2014 would see the 3 million figure breached. However, the war with Hamas in Gaza that summer damaged tourism in Israel for a long time.

Revenues from tourism around the world are also on the up, with a median increase of 7 percent in 2017.

Five of the 10 countries leading the way in tourism revenue increases were found in the EU: Spain saw the highest revenue rise with 12 percent more (it enjoyed a 6 percent rise in 2016); Britain was next with an 11 percent increase (first quarter data only); and France enjoyed 8 percent more revenue. Germany and Italy enjoyed increases of 4 and 3 percent, respectively.