As discussed in my previous post the current political events in the Middle East have adversely affected the tourism industry throughout the region. I recently visited Destinations Holiday and Travel Show in London and spoke to award-winning travel journalist, Matthew Teller, before his talk ‘Jordan & its neighbours: reshaping Middle East tourism’.

In what I found a thoroughly fascinating conversation, Matthew explained how reliant countries such as Egypt are on tourism.

“There is no back-up, there is no plan B, there’s no safety net, there’s very little diversification in the economy, at all. And most, if not all resources, in particular in the tourism industry are channelled into the ruling elite.

Egypt is experiencing a revolutionary process. The news media want to define the Arab Spring as being a single revolutionary event. It’s quite mistaken.” Matthew elaborated on how these countries are undergoing really deep social and political change that will take years, if not generations, to resolve. “The tourist industry should be using this as an opportunity to reshape how tourism works in these countries.

This is a subject Matthew is passionate about. He highlighted that the way tourism has developed throughout the region allows the big companies and the state to line their pockets but leaves little room for the private sector and very little room for entrepreneurship.

“Which is why in Egypt you have these big resorts built up and down the coast. It is state involvement and there has been state entities that have been benefiting most … It’s big business. There’s a certain degree of money that goes back in to the local economy, because you are employing people but a lot of money is siphoned out, away from the locals. … The trickle down is an over stated, over rated idea.

The point being that this revolutionary change that is going on in Egypt and elsewhere, presents you the opportunity to reshape economic activity, including tourism, so when you replace the systems of government and you replace the economic drivers, you allow the private sector to expand. If they can do that, then you have  the opportunity to have a different kind of tourism. That really is what, in a sense, the travel industry here and journalist should be encouraging. Jordan is doing that a little bit now. Jordan has always had a slightly different economy. In general it is more sustainable and responsible. It’s a tourism with more integrity…

These people are fighting for their children and their grandchildren to have a better life, a better country and a better government. The tourism industry within these countries and around the world should, at the least, be responding to that by exploring new ways of working – not simply trying to carry on regardless.”

Read more on reshaping the Middle East tourism on Matthew’s blog Quite Alone.

Specialised Local Tours

In Matthew’s talk later in the day he encouraged us, as travellers and tourists, to take advantage of the wonderful tours organised by local people rather than going on the sanitised tours offered by the large tour operators.

One great example of the type of tourism he would like to see flourish is Frying Pan Adventures in Dubai, who will show you a very different side of the city, away from the glitzy skyscrapers, by taking you through the historic streets of Old Dubai, giving you a wonderful insight into the rich, traditional culture through its cuisine. Here’s a video clip of Matthew on one of their tours sampling pani puri.

Discover Jordan with Matthew Teller

The one country in the Middle East that Matthew is most familiar with is Jordan (he did write the Rough Guide to Jordan after all). With easyJet now flying there it is more accessible than ever. This summer he will be leading a tour via On the Go Tours and I couldn’t think of a better way to visit the country. I, for one, would dearly love to go.

Political Tours

While specialist tours such as food and wine tours we are all familiar with, have you ever thought of going on a political tour? Former New York Times correspondent, Nick Wood, has set up a new company, Political Tours, the first of its kind, specialising in tours centred around current affairs. Imagine how fascinating it would be to tour Bosnia with Kate Adie, possibly Britain’s most famous foreign correspondent. Now you can!

Niche tourism like this is certainly a superb way to discover a country be it a morning food tour in Rome or a 11 day political tour in Turkey (if you can afford the price tag of course!)

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