Climate change could stifle tourism recovery in the Middle East

Climate change could stifle tourism recovery in the Middle East

Image: AFP

After a two-year slowdown, tourism is booming again in the Middle East. As countries lift their COVID-19 travel restrictions and demand for return trips, the World Travel and Tourism Council predicts that the sector’s contribution to regional gross domestic product will grow by more than 36 percent in 2022 to more than $256 billion .
While this is undoubtedly great news for countries where tourism brings in the lion’s share of revenue, there is an existential threat to this tourism recovery: climate change. The countries most dependent on tourism are also the countries most affected by the changing weather.
In Jordan, where tourism is one of the biggest earners of foreign currency and the second-largest private sector employer, accounting for 7.3 percent of jobs before the pandemic, the drought is exacerbating water shortages.
The heat and historic lack of rain are threatening tourist destinations across Jordan. The Dead Sea, for example, is shrinking by more than a meter a year, with shorelines receding and sinkholes growing.
Climate change is also contributing to the lowering of water levels in the Jordan River. Today, water diversions upstream have turned the river into a mudslide.
It works the other way too. In November 2018, rare heavy rains flooded Petra, Jordan’s prized tourist attraction and UNESCO World Heritage Site, forcing the evacuation of nearly 4,000 tourists. While no deaths were reported in Petra, 13 people – including two young girls and a rescue diver – died in other parts of the country. Two weeks earlier, flooding near the Dead Sea killed 21 people, mostly children, when their bus was swept away.
Meanwhile, in Egypt, rising temperatures damaged some of Luxor’s famous monuments and discolored archaeological stones. Tourism is the backbone of Egypt’s economy and is the largest travel and tourism sector in Africa, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Fortunately, Egypt’s coral reefs, which are popular with divers, have so far been spared the wrath of climate change. But extreme weather conditions are expected to worsen as temperatures rise. Further increases will be life-threatening — to humans, flora and fauna.
The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction predicts a 40 percent increase in the number of weather-related disasters worldwide over the next decade. At last month’s Travel World forum held in Nîmes, France, Paola Albrito, the new director of the UN office, estimated that there would be about 560 disasters a year by 2030, and each would be “bigger and more expensive ” than what we are experiencing now.

Disasters will not only upend the lives of millions; they will also wreak havoc on tourism infrastructure wherever they strike.

Dry Maaye

These disasters will not only upend the lives of millions; they will also wreak havoc on tourism infrastructure wherever they strike.
Current efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the region’s tourism sector are mixed. At one level, countries have committed to change, with several plans and strategies aimed at green growth and social and environmental sustainability in the tourism sector.
Jordan, for example, has a five-year national green growth action plan for the tourism sector that advocates greener projects and greener investments. The plan is linked to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to combat climate change.
The country has made climate-related gains in other areas as well. It has pioneered a 10-year energy strategy for long-term low-carbon economic growth, and in May 2022, Jordan became the first developing country to build digital tools to track emissions in energy, transport and agriculture, according to the World Bank. Jordan hopes to reduce total emissions by 31 percent by 2030.
Meanwhile, at recent UN climate talks in Egypt, regional leaders discussed the need for industry itself to reduce its carbon footprint if global emissions targets are to be met. “The tourism sector requires a reboot,” said Khalida Bouzar, regional director of the United Nations Development Program for Arab States.
So far, climate change is not deterring tourists to the region. The World Cup, which kicked off in Qatar last week, is expected to attract more than a million visitors to the Gulf state. Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector is expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels next year, while the World Travel and Tourism Council predicts that tourism will grow by an average of 11 percent annually until 2030, making it the fastest growing sector in the Middle East. east. Even world leaders flocked to Egypt’s tourist attractions after the conclusion of the COP27 climate talks.
But before countries get too comfortable with tourism recovery after COVID-19, governments need to make the connection between climate change and economic survival. The Middle East has already seen what a pandemic can do to the tourism industry. We can’t afford to get burned again.

Suha Ma’ayeh is a journalist based in Amman, Jordan. Her work has been published in Foreign Policy and the CTC Sentinel. She also reports for The Wall Street Journal and other publications on Jordan and southern Syria.
© The Syndication Bureau

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News

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