Will Tourists Return to the Middle East?


Travelers appear to be slowly returning to some Middle East nations despite the continuation of the Israel-Hamas conflict that all but decimated the region’s tourism since it began on Oct. 7. Travel operators said that bookings to countries including Egypt, Jordan and Oman are growing, welcome news for an area that’s dependent on tourist dollars and one that had received a record number of visitors since the height of the pandemic.

“The Middle East was on track to be one of our biggest leaders in post-pandemic travel recovery, and with this momentum swinging back, it shows just how powerful its appeal is to travelers,” said James Thornton, the chief executive of Intrepid Travel, a global tour company.

Intrepid’s bookings for tours in Oman — and Tunisia in Northern Africa — have experienced explosive demand, more than doubling from last year, the company said.

Closer to the conflict, booking figures in Egypt are rising, travel operators said, with hopes pinned on Nile River tours, a tourist mainstay. Beach holidays in coastal destinations such as Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh are also picking up, said Khaled Ibrahim, a Cairo-based consultant for Amisol Travel Egypt and a member of the Middle East Travel Alliance.

And in Jordan, Intrepid’s bookings for family tours this year have increased 22 percent from last year.

In Israel, tourism has not yet rebounded, and its absence is hurting local businesses, said Harry Rubenstein, who runs Harry’s Baked, a tour company with excursions in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramle. He said he had a few tours this month, but nothing scheduled beyond next week.

“There aren’t any conventional tourists visiting now,” Mr. Rubenstein said.

Eyal Carlin, Israel’s tourism commissioner to North America, said international visitors had recently begun trickling into Israel to volunteer. He added that he expected this type of travel, the majority of which is faith-based, to remain “steady” over the next several months.

Additionally, airline service to Israel has not returned to prewar levels: The number of available inbound flights from January through March is down about 31 percent compared with the same period last year, according to data from Cirium, an aviation analytics company. In the United States, Delta Air Lines has paused flights until March 29, and American Airlines has discontinued service through April 4. United Airlines has suspended its flights indefinitely, said Josh Freed, a United spokesman.

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