Middle East fastest growing region

The Middle East continues to be the world's fastest growing tourism market, that's the preliminary results from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) for the first four months of 2006.

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By  Sarah Campbell Published  August 17, 2006

The Middle East continues to be the world's fastest growing tourism market, that's the preliminary results from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) for the first four months of 2006. Africa and the Middle East showed a record 11% growth over 2005 figures for the same period. Worldwide, the UNTWO data recorded some 236 million international tourist arrivals, or 10 million more than in the same period of 2005, reflecting the sustained growth in global tourism demand started in 2004. These are the findings based on the data gathered by UNWTO for January through April 2006, as presented in the latest issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. Although the rate of growth has slowed slightly, in line with the forecast published in the January issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, 2006 has got off to a good start, with the first four months of the year recording a 4.5% growth in international tourist arrivals worldwide. “International tourism has now entered a more stable phase of sustained demand without big peaks and troughs. Although the rate of growth is slowing gradually, international tourism is firmly on track to grow at a rate above the long-term average of 4% for the third year in a row now — barring unexpected events, of course,” said Francesco Frangialli, secretary general, UNWTO. “There are currently three major factors that could affect this positive trend. These are terrorism, higher oil prices — especially for aviation fuel — and of course, the threat of an avian flu outbreak. “In the case of the oil prices, experience and recent UNWTO research on the impact of higher energy prices show that the recent rise and volatility in oil prices have not noticeably influenced tourism demand, at least as far as is demonstrated by the latest data on tourist arrivals and the continued growth of air travel.And, while past oil price peaks did affect tourism negatively through the impact on the economy at large, the global economy has remained steady on this occasion and it is expected to remain strong through 2007,” said Frangialli. “As for the potential avian flu pandemic, if it were to occur it would of course deal a severe blow to international tourism — undoubtedly of a greater magnitude than that of the SARS outbreak in 2003. This is why UNWTO, within the UN system, is working with a network of government and industry bodies committed to making travel as safe as possible and to ensuring that the sector is fully prepared for any influenza developments,” he added. In the Middle East (+11%), Egypt's 3% increase through May can be considered very positive overall. The country has suffered more than its fair share of difficulties in the past few years, but has proved to be well experienced at restoring confidence. Lebanon (+49%) and Bahrain (+30%) report the highest growth rates in the region so far this year, while the United Arab Emirate of Dubai (+7%) and Jordan (+5%) grew at healthy but more moderate rates. Looking ahead to prospects for May through August, the UNWTO is predicting steady growth for the coming four months. This positive outlook is confirmed by the rise in the confidence index of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts. The trend of modestly rising confidence levels already noted in the January Barometer is confirmed, as the rating for prospects has improved for the second consecutive period, up from 132 to 134 (on a scale of 0 to 200, with 100 meaning 'the same' and 150 'better').

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