The revolution will not be tour-guided
A peaceful protest calling for more "democracy and social justice" in Casablanca, Morocco. (Reuters)
As political unrest spreads across the Middle East and North Africa, tourism is taking a hit in countries undergoing revolution. But what about nearby countries like Morocco, Algeria, Qatar and the UAE?
The London-based market research firm Euromonitor International recently released a report finding that certain countries neighbouring troubled areas, like Algeria, which shares a border with Libya, may be affected. The US has issued a travel warning for Algeria; Australia advises tourists to "reconsider your need to travel" to Algeria; and, the UK warns against "all but essential travel" to certain parts of Algeria. These warnings stem from anti-government demonstrations, as well as reports of kidnappings and other terrorist activity. And rising oil prices resulting from conflict in the Middle East are only exacerbating the situation. So it's not altogether surprising that while Algeria is not in the midst of a revolution, that many travellers are steering clear.
Craig Bidois, a former UN security advisor and the managing director of Fear Free, a travel security firm, recommends that tourists stay informed of the political situation in the country they're travelling to, since Cairo showed us that anti-government protests can escalate without much warning. That said, Bidois's main piece of advice is to go ahead and travel. "Don't listen to the people that say you should not go alone or that it is too risky. Just do it... just avoid the war zones – they are best left for soldiers."
Specifically, popular destinations such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai are still safe. "Overall, the safety and security for tourists is high for the UAE," he insisted. "Would I take my family there? You bet. No worries, mate."
The UAE-based Omeir Travel Agency says it's been business as usual. The company has not noticed any increase in cancellations for tours or hotel reservations in recent months.
Qatar, which borders Saudi Arabia, is also peaceful, Bidois said, which is good news for football fans planning a trip to Doha for the 2022 World Cup. A heavy police presence has reduced threats of crime and terrorism. Still, the US State Department recommends that tourists avoid labour camps where worker grievances could lead to protests, and the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommends avoiding large gatherings and demonstrations.
"Morocco," Bidois said, "is the country where you need to be aware of the situation the most, as there have been some protests in Tangier and Marrakesh".
Bidois adds that most countries in the region have "the underlying threat of some form of terrorist activity, but the same can be said for London or New York."
If you are planning a trip to the Arab world, Fear Free offers these safety tips:
- Research the country you're visiting
- Check government websites to be aware of travel advisories
- If visiting a country with travel warnings, purchase travel insurance first
- Keep family and friends updated on your whereabouts via social media websites
- Keep copies of your passport and visa accessible online (via email, for instance)
- Be culturally aware and culturally sensitive
- Don't become too intoxicated
- Trust your gut instinct
Travelwise is a BBC Travel column that goes behind the travel stories to answer common questions, satisfy uncommon curiosities and uncover some of the mystery surrounding travel. If you have a burning travel question, contact Travelwise.