Tourism and conflict in the Middle East

Authored by: Richard W. Butler

Routledge Handbook on Tourism in the Middle East and North Africa

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  December  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138651920
eBook ISBN: 9781315624525
Adobe ISBN:


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The Middle East has been a centre for tourism based on religion and the ancient wonders of the world, but has for centuries also been the scene of many conflicts. The chapter suggests that the current conflicts and their effects on tourism began with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979, and subsequent developments, particularly related to religious fundamentalism, saw a sharp decline in tourism to the region because of the perceived threat to security and vulnerability of travellers. The chapter notes how tourism has changed from exploration/cultural tourism to forms of mass tourism, with some locations such as Dubai linking tourism and airline development with impressive results. The sensitivity to conflict of destinations in the region is discussed, particularly in the cases of Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey, all of which had established mass tourism industries and resorts. Continued conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq have negatively affected tourism to the region and refugees fleeing from these conflicts have also affected neighbouring countries such as Turkey and Greece. Israel is an exception to this pattern, partly because of other reasons for tourism, including diaspora tourism and the appeal of the Holy Land to several religions. The chapter ends with speculation on the future pattern of tourism in the area under consideration, noting that currently only West Africa of the Islamic sphere of influence in this region has avoided a decline in tourism, but even here it is at risk of unrest. It concludes that without the permanent settlement of religious and political disputes, tourism in the Middle East is likely to remain extremely vulnerable to sudden conflict and disturbance.

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