Chinese, Russians shore up Middle East tourism

Chinese and Russian visitors boosted Middle Eastern tourism last year following a 2016 slump as Europeans gave the area a wide berth on security fears. (FITUR)
Updated 21 January 2018
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Chinese, Russians shore up Middle East tourism

MADRID: Chinese and Russian visitors boosted Middle Eastern tourism last year following a 2016 slump as Europeans gave the area a wide berth on security fears, according to the World Tourism Organization (WTO).
The Mideast region as a whole drew 58 million foreign tourists in 2017 — a 4.8 percent rise on the previous year — the Madrid-based WTO said in its latest figures released midweek.
Jihadist attacks on tourist sites in Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey in recent years particularly hit the industry.
But “over time, people forget and return,” said Jalel Gasmi, head of Granada Travel Services, a tour operator attending the Fitur international tourism gathering in the Spanish capital.
Despite the annual rise, Marcus Lee, heading the Welcome China agency, said the sector could not rest on its laurels.
For Chinese visitors, security “is the first thing they ask about” beyond visa regulations and often poor flight connections in the Middle East, said Lee.
Security concerns aside, Lee said rising purchasing power means the Chinese tourist takes a different approach compared to 20 years ago when, “for example ... coming to Europe they wanted to see ten countries in ten days.
“That’s no longer the case and we are concentrating on one country over ten days,” said Lee.
In the case of Egypt, tourist numbers soared 55 percent last year, even as European numbers dipped, with Chinese and visitors from Egypt’s neighbors taking their place.
Visitor profiles have changed since military man Abdel Fattah El-Sisi came to power in 2014 and especially since the 2011 overthrow of longtime Hosni Mubarak.
Before then, “the European market, including Russia, accounted for almost 80 percent (of tourists) but now, 52 percent,” said Hesham El Demeiry, head of the Egyptian tourist authority, adding Chinese and Indian visitors rose from 5 to 12 percent while tourists from Egypt’s neighbors doubled their share from 15 to 30 percent.
Turkey, meanwhile, is back in business after the fallout from the July 2016 coup saw visitor numbers slide by a third, before a similar rise last year.
Ankara is out to keep on attracting more visitors from Russia — whose tourists poured in during 2017 — as well as neighbors including Iran and Ukraine.
The downside, according to Turkish tour operator Ahmet Okay, is that the newcomers are likely to spend fewer tourist dollars than their EU or US counterparts.
Tunisia is also on the way back thanks to a surge in Russian and Chinese visitors with a 23 percent rise in visitors last year over 2016.


Libya’s NOC declares force majeure on El Sharara oilfield

Updated 18 December 2018
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Libya’s NOC declares force majeure on El Sharara oilfield

  • El Sharara — a 315,000 barrels a day field was taken over on Dec. 8 by groups of tribesmen, armed protesters and state guards demanding salary payments
  • Some government officials favor offering quick cash to the occupiers to make them leave, but NOC officials have warned that would set a precedent

TRIPOLI: Libya’s state oil firm NOC has declared force majeure on operations at the country’s largest oilfield, El Sharara, a week after it announced a contractual waiver on exports from the field following its seizure by protesters.

The 315,000 barrels a day field, located in the south of the North African OPEC member country, was taken over on Dec. 8 by groups of tribesmen, armed protesters and state guards demanding salary payments and development funds.

Officials have been unable to persuade the groups, who have been camping on the field, to leave the vast, partly unsecured site amid disagreements how best to proceed, workers on the field said.

Some government officials favor offering quick cash to the occupiers to make them leave, but NOC officials have warned that would set a precedent and encourage more blockades, workers at the oilfield say.

NOC has described the occupiers as militia trying to get on the payroll of field guards, a recurring theme in Libya where many see seizing NOC facilities as an easy way to get heard by the weak state authorities.

Production will only restart after “alternative security arrangements are put in place,” NOC said in a statement.

Operations at the smaller El Feel oilfield continued as normal, engineers said.

“Production at Sharara was forcibly shut down by an armed group — Battalion 30 and its civilian support company — that claimed to be providing security at the field, but which threatened violence against NOC employees,” NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanallah said in the statement.

His comments came after the chief of staff of the Tripoli-based government, Abdulrahman Attweel, criticized some of Sanalla’s previous comments about the protesters as “irresponsible.”

“These people (guards) were there to protect the field without salaries and without any attention to them and their daily needs, not in terms of accommodation, supply, transportation and communication,” Attweel told Al-Ahrar channel late on Monday.

Their demands were legitimate, he said, echoing comments by some southern lawmakers and mayors demanding more jobs and development for the neglected region.
The blockade has been complicated by the presence of tribesmen, who have argued against quick cash payments saying they want funds to improve hospitals and other services, which might take time to deliver.

The shutdown of the El Sharara has not affected the El Feel oilfield, also located in the south. It continued to pump around 70,000 barrels a day, field engineers said.
Its exports were being routed via the Melittah oil and gas port, which like El Feel belongs to a joint venture NOC has with Italian energy company Eni, another engineer said.

A spokesman for NOC did not respond to a request for comment.
El Sharara crude is normally transported to the Zawiya port, also home to a refinery. NOC runs the field with Spain’s Repsol , France’s Total, Austria’s OMV and Norway’s Equinor, formerly known as Statoil.