War and war threats depress Mideast tourism


The specter of war has begun exacting a toll on Middle East tourism, with very low hotel occupancy rates reported in Jordan, while Israel last year suffered its worst season in more than two decades.

On the positive side of Middle East economic news this week, major banks reported hefty 2002 gains, with a noted increase in deposits thought to result partly from fund repatriation after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States that have tarnished the Arabs’ reputation in the West.

Figures disclosed at a French travel agents’ conference held this week in Jordan revealed that hotel occupancy rates in the southern ancient city of Petra were not exceeding 15 percent.

After taking a beating from the anti-Israeli Palestinian uprising that erupted in September 2000 and the attacks in New York and Washington a year later, Jordan’s budding tourism industry is now reeling under the threat of a US-led war on neighbouring Iraq.

The United States on Sunday signed over 145.5 million dollars in economic assistance to Jordan out of a projected total of 250 million dollars for 2003.

In Israel, the statistics bureau said Sunday the country welcomed less than a million tourists in 2002, its lowest total since 1982, as the fighting with the Palestinians raged on.

Unemployment is rampant in the sector, one of Israel’s main industries, and dozens of hotels have closed their doors. But banks were faring well in the region, according to 2002 results recently disclosed.

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