Why U.S. Tourists Are Excited About Middle East Travel
With near constant news coverage of conflict zones in the Middle East, including Syria, Iraq, and parts of Israel, U.S. readers can often succumb to the idea that the entire region is riddled with violence.
Many U.S. travelers have proved resilient, however, with news from places like Iran only encouraging them to see the country up close for themselves. Several tour groups have seen huge spikes in interest to travel to the Middle East in 2017, with some even seeing bookings increase by over 100 percent year over year.
“A lot of travelers go out for that cultural experience, something that’s different from their every day. What’s really important is that we showcase that,” Topdeck Travel Middle East and North Africa product manager Nick Wright told Travel + Leisure.
Israel, Jordan, and Morocco were the top sellers for Topdeck, with burgeoning potential in the United Arab Emirates. The agency’s travelers in the region tended to skew younger and overwhelmingly female — 70 percent of their participants in Middle East tours were women, with an average age of 27.
Intrepid noted a similar phenomenon, with interest peaking in Egypt and Jordan, which saw a 150 percent and 120 percent increase in bookings year over year, respectively. The tour group has doubled the number of itineraries they run to the regions, planning to pivot toward food-centric tours in particular.
The Middle East has long attracted visitors from all over the world with its rich history and extensive natural beauty. The ancient site of Petra is considered a touchstone for any history or archeology buff.
Many countries in the Middle East and North African regions are very safe for tourism, and in some cases are considered less prone to terrorism than places in Europe, according to the Global Terrorism Index. The index is a project of the Institute for Economics & Peace, and it ranks how strongly countries have been affected by terrorism by evaluating the number and severity of terrorist incidents around the world, as well as their fall-out.
Iraq and Afghanistan topped the list in 2016, but many of their geographic neighbors were far less prone to terrorism. Iran and Jordan landed behind France, the U.K., and the U.S, with France ranking 29th, the U.K. 34th, and the U.S. 36th. Iran came in 47th, Jordan 58th — and Qatar landed all the way at the 112th spot.
Political climates in various countries in the Middle East can change rapidly, and travelers should check with the U.S. State Department for recent travel alerts or advisories. When one country is not advisable for travel, that does not mean the whole region should be considered off-limits.
“American travelers are making a statement by continuing to travel in the Middle East,” Leigh Barnes, North American director for Intrepid Travel, told T+L. "They are showing that this region is not defined by a single country or experience, and shifting the conversation from fear to understanding."