Travellers are cancelling or delaying their holidays in the Middle East as the Israel-Gaza conflict enters its second month.
The conflict in the Gaza Strip, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 10,000 people, including 4,104 children, according to the Palestinian health ministry, has also prompted several countries to issue safety advisories warning its citizens over travel to destinations such as Lebanon and Egypt.
In a report titled MENA Tourism Likely to Take a Hit from Israel–Hamas War, S&P Global Ratings said last week that based solely on the impact on tourism, it estimates Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan as the most exposed, due to their geographic proximity and the potential for some aspects of the conflict to expand across their borders.
Last year, tourism contributed 26% of Lebanon’s current account receipts. For Jordan and Egypt, the figures were 21% and 12%, respectively, and for Israel, 3%, the US-based credit rating agency stated in its report.
Egypt’s tourism sector, which surpassed its pre-COVID-19 numbers to reach $13.6 billion in revenue for the fiscal year 2022-2023, is offering incentives to tourists to keep the country on track for its projected 15 million visitors by year-end.
Speaking at WTM, Egyptian Tourism Minister Ahmed Issa was quoted by Reuters as saying the country was offering an extra $500 to tourists in incentives per flight landing in Sharm el-Sheikh, because this is where customers were asking “the largest number of questions”. Moreover, he said, Egypt is working very closely with wholesalers, retailers, and airliners to keep them committed to the country.
Last week, credit agency Fitch also downgraded Egypt’s rating to B-, while adding in its report: “In Fitch’s view, the Israel-Hamas war poses significant downside risks to tourism, although we build in some near-term hit.”
The agency further added that the country’s proximity to the Israel-Hamas conflict, and the potential influx of refugees, increases the security risk, especially in the Sinai region.
The S&P report further states: “Since the war between Israel and Hamas, several tour agencies in Egypt have reported cancellations of around half of the bookings for November and December, particularly from European travellers. Airlines such as Lufthansa, Eurowings, and Swiss Air suspended flights to Lebanon in mid-October. We think similar trends could emerge in Jordan's tourism sector.”
Jordan’s tourism minister Makram Mustafa Queisi was quoted by the UK-based Travel Weekly as saying last week that the country has witnessed a drop-off of about 40% in visitor numbers to the country’s main attractions.
Major cruise lines have also cancelled or indefinitely postponed trips to the Middle East as the war continues to escalate. Companies such as the Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings have stated they haves cancelled and redirected all calls to Israel as well as certain calls to the surrounding region for the remainder of 2023.
The Miami-based Royal Caribbean Group has also removed Israel from its 2024 itineraries, while Celebrity Cruises, a brand under Royal Caribbean, has cancelled all scheduled 2024 calls to the Red Sea destination for its Celebrity Infinity ship.
(Reporting by Bindu Rai, editing by Seban Scaria)