Middle East Cruising: Should You Go?

April 2, 2012 | By | 2 Comments

It’s been more than a year since the Arab Spring spirit of revolution swept through the Middle East, and the fallout continues to affect cruise travel. Several countries, such as Syria, have plunged into daily violence or carry precautionary warnings, while others in the region remain healthy tourist destinations. With safety concerns in mind, we’ve checked the status of tourism in countries throughout the Middle East and issued some recommendations. Keep in mind that events can change the situation rapidly. Register with the U.S. State Department if you’re going on an extended trip to the area.

What’s happened: Arab Spring actually began in December 2010, when violent protests against President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali led to him fleeing the country and dissolution of his political party the following month. Constitutional elections were held in October 2011 and the new government took office in December. Demonstrations, work stoppages and protests, occasionally violent, are still taking place in 2012.
Cruise fallout: Tunisia attracted several cruise lines before the upheaval, but several, including Costa and Oceania, have pulled out or changed itineraries for 2012. MSC Cruises, P & O, and Holland America still make stops.
Should you go? Yes, as long as you are a traveler who can handle uncertainty. Otherwise, wait.
What’s happened: Inspired by events in Tunisia, protesters began calling for the ouster of President Mubarak in January 2011, with large rallies in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. While the revolution was successful, reforms have been sluggish, and strikes and protests have continued. The unease will likely continue until presidential elections take place in May 2012. Even more troubling than the protests, however, is the decrease in security that’s taken place since the revolution. In February 2012, two groups of foreign tourists were kidnapped at gunpoint in the Sinai Peninsula, where travelers flock to resorts on the Red Sea. Reduced police presence on the Nile River forced some river cruising companies to cut their route between Luxor and Dendera, turning it into a bus tour instead.
Tourist fallout: Soon after the revolution began, major cruise lines canceled stops in Egypt’s Mediterranean ports. Many have come back in 2012, including Princess, Holland America, Celebrity, Oceania, P & O, Cunard, Silversea, Seabourn and Norwegian, which is scheduled to return this fall. Costa dropped the country entirely from its 2012 roster, and Crystal and Azamara eliminated stops scheduled for later this year.
On the Nile River, river cruises started again in fall 2011, although with far less passengers than before. Avalon, Scenic, Uniworld, Viking and Vantage are all sailing.
Should you go? Yes, but only if you’re a traveler who can handle uncertainty. Otherwise, wait (the Pyramids will still be there).
What’s happened: Until Arab Spring, Lebanon had experienced resurgence in tourism, with record tourism in 2009 and 2010. Beirut in particular became a trendy travel destination, with new hotels, clubs and restaurants rising along its beaches. Under pressure from Hezbollah, members of the government resigned in early 2011, with a new one forming in June. The country had several large-scale demonstrations and strikes during the year, some violent.
Tourism fallout: Lebanon’s surge in tourism stalled in 2011, dropping by 25 percent. Silversea cruises stop in Lebanon.
Should you go? Yes, but only if you’re a traveler who can handle uncertainty; several countries, including the US and Canada, have issued travel warnings.
What’s happened: Anti-government protests that began in February 2011 mushroomed into an all-out civil war, which ended when Muammar Gaddafi was killed in October.
Tourism fallout: The violence and fighting in Libya essentially ended most tours and cruise stops in the country during 2011 and into this year. While some airlines have resumed service into Tripoli, not all have done so yet, and tourist visas are still not being issued.
Should you go? No
What’s happened: Fueled by protests in other countries, Moroccans rallied on Feb. 20, 2011, in massive demonstrations that called for King Mohammed VI to give up powers. Concessions were made, and a new constitution introduced. Protests still occur on Sundays.
Tourism fallout: Despite the protests, tourism in Morocco remained stable in 2011, and even grew slightly. Most of the major cruise lines have stops in Moroccan ports.
Should you go? Yes
What’s happened: Friday protests against the government began in January 2011, and continued throughout the year, despite Cabinet changes made by King Abdullah II.
Tourism fallout: Tourism to Jordan dropped severely in 2011, mostly because of the negative perception of the region. Tourism officials estimated that the reduction cost the country $1 billion. Most tours remained opened throughout the year, however, and all major tour companies and cruises are still operating.
Should you go? Yes
What’s happened: Oman experienced several demonstrations, some violent, in early 2011, when protesters called for government reforms and a better standard of living. Sultan Qaboos bin Said responded with a hike in the minimum wage, some reshuffling of cabinet members and other reforms. The furor died down quickly, compared with other Arab countries.
Tourism fallout: With a less developed tourism trade than many Middle Eastern countries, Oman made it a priority in 2011 by opening more hotels and attractions. The number of cruise ship passengers visiting the country also increased dramatically, as more lines added port stops in Muscat. The Ministry of Tourism has said they expect 2 million foreign tourists in 2012, an increase of 400,000 from 2011.
Should you go? Yes
What’s happened: As in many Arab countries, demonstrations against the Syrian government started in January 2011. They continued through the spring until July, when the government of President Bashar al-Assad responded with harsh security clampdowns, using the Syrian military. Now the country is engulfed in a civil war that shows no signs of receding. As of March 2012, more than 10,000 people from the opposition have been killed, and that’s not counting deaths within the government security forces.
Tourism fallout: Before the violence, tourism to Syria had been on the upswing. That’s done now. Most Western countries have issued travel warnings against going to Syria, and the U.S. Embassy in Damascus closed in February 2012.
Should you go? No
United Arab Emirates
What’s happened: The UAE, which includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi, avoided most of the upheaval that categorized Arab Spring. While some of the emirates have had some economic dips, the country’s income per capita remains among the highest in the world.
Tourism fallout: Often considered the Las Vegas of the Middle East, Dubai’s tourism increased 20 percent in 2011, a jump that officials attributed to the uncertainty elsewhere in the region.
Should you go? Yes
You can encounter danger just about anywhere. See what you can do to stay safe in port.
Check out our guide to Middle East Cruises.
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    2 Responses to “Middle East Cruising: Should You Go?”

    1. Wanda
      April 2nd, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

      We’ve did a lightening trip into Egypt while on a cruise and truly want to go back. Its at the top of our list and every year we check the situation and Egypt goes to Number 2. Its unthinkable that we not get back.

    2. Ms Understood
      April 2nd, 2012 @ 8:24 pm

      Just came back from a Nile River cruise (Sonesta Sun Goddess). I say go and go now. There are no crowds, we were welcomed everywhere and felt as safe as anywhere. Although the pyramids will be there, this country could go either way: it will become more fundamentalist after the Presidential election and thus less friendly to American tourists or it won’t and the crowds will be back. I say \Go, now\!

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