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.


‘Get prices down’ Trump tells OPEC

Updated 20 September 2018
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‘Get prices down’ Trump tells OPEC

  • Trump highlights US security role in region
  • Comments come ahead of oil producers meeting in Algeria

LONDON: US president Donald Trump urged OPEC to lower crude prices on Thursday while reminding Mideast oil exporters of US security support.
He made his remarks on Twitter ahead of a keenly awaited meeting of OPEC countries and its allies in Algiers this weekend as pressure mounts on them to prevent a spike in prices caused by the reimposition of oil sanctions on Iran.
“We protect the countries of the Middle East, they would not be safe for very long without us, and yet they continue to push for higher and higher oil prices!” he tweeted.
“We will remember. The OPEC monopoly must get prices down now!”
Despite the threat, the group and its allies are unlikely to agree to an official increase in output, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing OPEC sources.
In June they agreed to increase production by about one million barrels per day (bpd). That decision was was spurred by a recovery in oil prices, in part caused by OPEC and its partners agreeing to lower production since 2017.
Known as OPEC+, the group of oil producers which includes Russia are due to meet on Sunday in Algiers to look at how to allocate the additional one million bpd within its quote a framework.
OPEC sources told Reuters that there was no immediate plan for any official action as such a move would require OPEC to hold what it calls an extraordinary meeting, which is not on the table.
Oil prices slipped after Trumps remarks, with Brent crude shedding 40 cents to $79 a barrel in early afternoon trade in London while US light crude was unchanged at about $71.12.
Brent had been trading at around $80 on expectations that global supplies would come under pressure from the introduction of US sanctions on Iranian crude exports on Nov. 4.
Some countries has already started to halt imports from Tehran ahead of that deadline, leading analysts to speculate about how much spare capacity there is in the Middle East to compensate for the loss of Iranian exports as well as how much of that spare capacity can be easily brought online after years of under-investment in the industry.
Analysts expect oil to trend higher and through the $80 barrier as the deadline for US sanctions approaches.
“Brent is definitely fighting the $80 line, wanting to break above,” said SEB Markets chief commodities analyst Bjarne Schieldrop, Reuters reported. “But this is likely going to break very soon.”