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Middle East tourism market prepares to welcome Chinese tourists again - Xinhua

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Tourists visit the famous Khan el-Khalili tourist bazaar in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 6, 2023. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)

TUNIS/CAIRO, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) — China’s decision to downgrade its handling of COVID-19 from Class A to Class B starting Sunday has excited government officials and industry players. tourism in the Middle East, which are preparing to welcome Chinese tourists who have been absent for three years due to the pandemic.

THE LONG-AWAITED RETURN OF CHINESE TOURISTS

China has continuously optimized its responses to COVID-19, the latest of which will lift restrictions on citizens’ outbound travel from Sunday. This decision is warmly welcomed by tourism professionals in the Middle East.

“We are very happy to hear the good news,” Amir Ben Aribia, general manager of Tunisian travel agency Tunisia Blue Sky, told Xinhua.

With Chinese tourists accounting for 90% of the company’s business before the pandemic outbreak, Ben Aribia has closely followed the adjustment of China’s COVID-related policies.

Karim Mohammed, owner of a souvenir shop in the famous Khan El Khalili bazaar in Cairo, the Egyptian capital, said he expects Chinese tourists to return to Egypt soon.

As the Belt and Road cooperation crosses the Middle East region where more and more countries offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival entry to Chinese citizens, the number of Chinese arrivals has increased in during the pre-pandemic years.

In 2016, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) began granting visas to Chinese visitors upon arrival. In 2017, more than 764,000 Chinese tourists visited the UAE, representing a 41% year-on-year increase.

According to Dubai Tourism’s 2020 report, the relaxation of UAE visa rules in 2016 led to the number of Chinese visitors to the Gulf country doubling in four years.

When Saudi Arabia announced the issuance of tourist visas to visitors from 49 countries in 2019, China surpassed the number of tourist visas issued by the kingdom.

Chinese tourists used to come in groups, which greatly boosted its business, Mohammed said.

Halis Aydogan, an official with Turkish company Pasha Balloon Tours, told Xinhua that in Cappadocia, famous for its hot air balloon tours, Chinese tourists accounted for nearly half of the nearly 600,000 hot air balloon travelers in 2019.

Hot air balloons fly over Cappadocia, Turkey, Sept. 20, 2021. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)

HUGE POTENTIAL FOR THE MIDDLE EAST

Despite its rapid growth, China remains a tourism market with enormous potential for the Middle East. Experts believe that the return of Chinese tourists would have a positive impact on a wide range of sectors in the region.

“Not only does a hotel stay benefit the hospitality industry, but visitor spending on retail and leisure activities drives job demand and boosts the broader economy,” Ross said. Curran, assistant professor at Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University in Dubai. National, an English daily newspaper headquartered in Abu Dhabi.

At the same time, the return of Chinese tourists would strengthen cultural exchanges between China and Middle Eastern countries in the long term.

Chinese tourists show more interest in historical sites and natural landscapes, Ben Aribia said, adding that the Chinese style of travel brings the industry a stable and handsome income.

This is why Tunisia Blue Sky has focused on the Chinese market in recent years, he said.

Photo taken on Oct. 15, 2019 shows the El Jem amphitheater in El Jem, Tunisia. (Xinhua/Wu Huiwo)

Abedulrazzak Abo Mohaisen, a Jordanian who has a workshop selling his traditional handcrafted Arab daggers near Amman’s historic Roman theater, said he expected a prosperous season brought by returning Chinese visitors.

“I think a good number of Chinese tourists will revive tourism in Jordan. China is a big country with an ancient civilization, and cooperation with it in this sector will be very promising,” he said.

Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb said he hoped more Chinese tourists would visit and learn about Saudi heritage, culture and people.

“China is one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest trading partners, and we have been enjoying Chinese culture and heritage for many years, especially the delicious cuisine found all over Saudi Arabia. Now we want the Chinese to come,” the minister said. Xinhua ahead of the 116th meeting of the Executive Council of the World Tourism Organization in Jeddah.

A boy rides a camel at the Elephant Rock site in AlUla, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 5, 2021. (Xinhua/Wang Haizhou)

PREPARATIONS FOR THE NEW TOURIST WAVE

With the lifting of restrictions on overseas travel by Chinese citizens, an increase in numbers in 2023 is expected. Analysts noted that the travel industry must remain flexible to respond to changing conditions.

International tourist arrivals, up 60% in 2022, will rise another 30% in 2023, with Chinese tourists providing a big boost to growth, according to the London-based Economist.

For now, hoteliers and travel agents in the Middle East are preparing to welcome a new wave of Chinese tourists.

“We sit down and work with our friends (…) to plan the reception of Chinese visitors and organize new tours and destinations in the city,” Serhan Kochan, a tour operator with the Ligarba travel agency, told Xinhua. Turkey’s largest city Istanbul.

He said his teams are creating unique excursion tours to cover some newly restored or opened tourist destinations along the sea coast.

Irfan Karsli, director of the Ligarba travel agency, said Chinese tour groups are expected to start visiting Turkey in April and the arrival of large numbers of Chinese tourists would help boost the country’s struggling economy. country.

Elhamy Al-Zayyat, tourism expert and former head of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, said Egypt is aiming for a 30% increase in tourist numbers per year after China lifted restrictions on travel to Egypt. abroad, but promotional campaigns alone are not enough.

“We need interesting services and innovative measures to attract Chinese tourists and challenge other competing markets,” he said.

Al-Zayyat also hoped that Egypt would cooperate with Chinese travel agencies to attract more Chinese tourists by offering interesting projects.

“Chinese tourists will be impressed when they return to Egypt, as Khan al-Khalili has undergone a comprehensive development process that has enhanced its beauty while preserving the nature of the Islamic heritage of the place,” said Mohammed Saleh, owner of a traditional Egyptian cuisine restaurant. in the bazaar.

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