Three reasons why inbound travel to the Middle East from China will surge in the post-Covid-19 era

By Ahmed Fouad Abdel Latif Abdel Fattah 

IFTM Comments is a partnership between Macau News Agency and Macao Institute for Tourism Studies

Ahmed Fouad Abdel Latif Abdel Fattah is a lecturer at The Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM). He teaches qualitative research methods and development and management of attractions. 

Over the past decade, China has become one of the fastest growing source markets for much of the Middle East region. In 2019 alone, 989,000 Chinese tourists flew toDubai, 510,000 to Egypt, 400,000 to Turkey, and 200,000 to Morocco, according to an annual Arabic survey by the Middle East Consumer Travel Report in 2020. Since the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese arrivals in the Middle East have taken a major hit, falling by as much as 80%.

However, according to the same report, inbound travel to the region from China is expected to bounce back in 2021, mostly in the third quarter of 2021. Here are three reasons why Chinese tourism to the Middle East will be surging soon: 

1- Governments in the Middle East are courting Chinese tourists: The Middle East is about to get more China-friendly. 

In their attempt to become the next travel destination for Chinese tourists, several Middle Eastern countries have either relaxed their visa requirements or waived them altogether. As of January 2020, the United Arab Emirates became the latest country in the Middle East to implement visa-free travel for one to three months for Chinese citizens, removing the need for a time-consuming and expensive waiting process. More air connectivity is also helping to put the region on the map for Chinese tourists, while incentives by local and national authorities are sealing the deal. Middle Eastern governments are boosting Chinese tourism by increasing the number of flights from China and offering more charter flights from major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu. For instance, since September 2019, EgyptAir has been operating seven Cairo to Guangzhou flights a week. Also, hotels and airports in Kuwait, Qatar and Dubai are now hiring Mandarin-speaking staff, accepting Chinese bank cards, and offering Chinese television channels in the rooms as well as hot tea to their Chinese guests, according to Al Jazeera Arabic news. In Tunisia a television program and magazine are also launched to properly present the Mediterranean country to Chinese tourists, according to the Gulf News. As many Middle Eastern economies are heavily reliant upon tourism, in the post-Covid-19 era, they will continue to aggressively campaign to bring in more tourists, with a focus on high-spending Chinese tourists. 

2. Chinese tourists’ shifting travel tastes is directing their compass towards the Middle Eastern Destinations.

Chinese tourists, especially millennial tourists, who nowadays make up more than half of the travelers – prefer trips with focus not on shopping, as their parents’ trip was, but on culture and heritageoriental travel. In addition to the Egyptian Giza Pyramids, Luxor, and other famous heritage sites in Lebanon, Israel and North Africa, lesser-known cultural destinations have wooed Chinese tourists. For the longest time, tourists from China chose the world’s popular shopping capitals as their destinations to snap up luxury goods and designer brands, but their shifting tastes and interests are now in the air. In the post-Covid-19 era, Chinese tourists will be putting more emphasis on immersing themselves in the local culture of the region and foster expectations while traveling. An annual Arabic survey by the Middle East Consumer Travel Report in 2020 indicated that for the first time shopping will no longer be the main motive for Chinese tourists travelling to the Middle East’s top shopping destinations such as Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait, Riyadh and Jeddah. Local culture, heritage, gastronomy, health and eco-tourism are their new flavors. Diverse culture, rich history, modern medical tourism hubs, luscious landscapes and a flair for natural surroundings appear to be a common denominator among the Chinese tourists in this survey report. 

3. Solidarity and Cooperation: China and the Middle East – Before & During the COVID-19. 

Before the Covid-19, the Chinese government has been encouraging greater people-to-people engagement with the Middle East region to enhance economic and tourism ties. One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative is another important effort to boost Chinese tourism in the region. COVID-19 has not challenged the trend of increasingly people-to-people engagement and friendly relations between the Middle East and China. Instead, it has brought an outpouring of mutual solidarity from the Middle Eastern countries and China in both aid and media slogans.The upward trend of Chinese-Middle Eastern people-to-people engagement is gaining pace, and OBOR and COVID-19 will be a significant moment on that timeline.