March 11, 2021

The Middle-East shows readiness for post-Covid tourism

Although many countries in the Middle-East totally closed their borders last year, some Gulf states worked hard to stay open. They will likely be among the first to re-emerge in a post-Covid recovery era. Africa should rapidly grow again as the pandemic has been largely kept under control – the southern part of the continent excepted.

According to the UNWTO, the Middle-East and Africa both recorded a drop of around 75% in arrivals, the second largest decline among regions in percentage terms. Africa recorded 17.8 million international travellers while the Middle East had a total of 16.2 million. Borders remained tightly controlled for most of 2020.

However, by the last quarter of 2020, a few countries started to again accept international travellers. These included Jordan, Lebanon, Oman and the UAE. Many African countries stayed open, although restrictions such as compulsory quarantine were implemented. There has been the case for Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, the Seychelles or Tanzania.

According to the latest UNWTO data, some countries in the region managed to limit losses under 70%. In the Gulf area, international arrivals to the UAE were down by 67% last year, Qatar by 69.2%, Egypt by 69.5%. North Africa’s popular tourism destinations also had limited losses, especially as they opened over the summer for European travellers. Morocco recorded a decline of 57.7% in international tourist arrivals, just like Tunisia, also down by 57.8%.

The Gulf looks meanwhile like bouncing back in 2021 as many countries in the region started or will start relaxing entry conditions as the roll-out of vaccines ramps-up. The Indian Ocean is also poised for a rapid return of travellers. As an example, the Seychelles just announced to be welcoming visitors armed with recent negative PCR tests (72 hours), with no compulsory quarantine.

In Dubai, the hosting towards the end of the year of Dubai World Expo as well as the UAE’s 50th anniversary celebrations should give a boost to international arrivals. The normalisation of diplomatic relations between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will give a new boost to tourism in the region. The lift of the diplomatic ban against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, Egypt and the UAE after three years will also stimulate business. Meanwhile, the opening mid-year of the Grand Egyptian Museum, with the world’s largest collection dedicated to Ancient Egyptian civilisations, will help in attracting tourists keen on culture.


  • Dubai last year recorded a third of the total number of international visitors registered in 2019. While the Emirate welcomed 16.73 million tourists from over 233 countries in 2019, last year Dubai received 5.51 million international guests in 2020. South Asia and Europe represented the largest share at 21% each.
  • Mauritius is the only country in the world which offers long-term visitor visas free of charge and a free Covid vaccine to holders of a Premium visa. Mauritius’ Premium Visa allows international visitors to stay in Mauritius for up to 12 months to work remotely, retire or simply enjoy a longer holiday. The visa is renewable.
The Middle-East shows readiness for post-Covid tourism
Mauritius – magnificent creole heritage (©
  • Closing 2020 with a passenger traffic decline of about 72%*, the Middle East, which served 405 million passengers in 2019, will probably take until 2024 to return to pre-Covid passenger levels.
    *Forecasts released by the Airports Council International (ACI).