Tourism in the Middle East offers some of the best experiences for travelers owing to the unique attractions in the desert-like countries. There is a mix of human-made and natural sites in the top visited countries in the Middle East. Human-made features include lakes, resorts, museums, iconic hotels, and complexes among others. Natural sites include religious sites of biblical and Islamic origin, cultural centers, archeological sites, and desert features. Below is an overview of tourism in five most visited countries from the Middle East.
The Most Visited Countries In The Middle East
Qatar has several tourist attractions that range from economic, historical to human-made sites. Visitors can visit ancient ruins in the Zubarah, the desert safari on the rolling dunes of Khor Al Udeid, the Souq Waqif (cultural market), Katara cultural village among others. There are also human-made resorts, Islamic Museums, the Mathaf Art Museum, Aspire Zone Sports City, the Pearl-Qatar, Aqua Park Aquatic Funfair, and the Banana Island Resort (a resort with over-water villas).Recently, Qatar started showing interests in Sports and Economic tourism. There are plenty tour guide companies, and visitors from the West can obtain a visa on arrival while members of the GCC states do not require a visa for entry. Qataris speak Arabic and English and mainly receive tourists from the Middle East though there is an increase in the number of Western tourists. In 2013 the country received 2.6 million people from around the world.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
The UAE is one of the most open countries in the Middle East for tourists, with Dubai being the most preferred destination. 9.9 million people visit the country yearly. The oil-rich country compensates what it lacks in natural attraction with magnificent artificial features such as the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. Tourists can sample the cultural experience by visiting the Old City of preserved buildings, Museums, Sheikh Said Al Maktoum House, the Heritage Village among others. As it is the shopping capital of the Middle East, there are high end and economy shopping malls and Souk (market) districts. UAE’s city of Dubai is home to the Dubai Sevens, Dubai World Cup (horse racing), Desert Challenge, and Desert Safari among other great sport tourism opportunities. Traditionally, the UAE hosts majority of the visitors from the GCC states but many Europeans, Asians and Africans feel at home in Dubai. Visitors should expect affordable and registered tour guiding companies as well as many high-end cars.
Egypt relies on tourism for economic support and receives an average of 9.1 million international tourists annually as of 2013. Egypt offers magnificent religious and a historical tourist experience. The Nile Monuments such as the Pyramids, Pharaoh’s Monuments, Tombs, Temples, Historical Museums, Mosques, and the many archeological sites are a favorite of many. Most of these sites date back to 20th Century BC. There are also the Saqqara Complex, Valley of Kings, Sinai Peninsula Resorts and Nile Cruises. Egypt has an open policy on tourists who come from Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa.
Saudi Arabia is among the top 20 most visited countries in the world, and it mainly offers religious tourism to Muslims. Saudi Arabia has many historical, cultural and military museums as well as heritage sites such as Mada’in Saleh and Diriya. Unfortunately, non-religious tourism is only open to citizens of the GCC countries. General tourism is not allowed, and visitors require a local sponsor. Female visitors need consent from their husbands or fathers while entering or leaving the country. There are 12 million tourists visiting Saudi Arabia yearly as of 2013, most of whom are Muslims on the religious Hajj to Mecca. Saudi Arabia has made it hard for people to get tourist visas and the lucky few who get it will be turned away at the airport if their passport indicates that they have ever visited Israel.
Jordan welcomes approximately 3.9 million international tourists annually, but the number may vary depending on regional stability. Jordan offers historical and religious sites such as the Petra, River Jordan, and ancient worship sites, ancient Roman Architecture, the Mukwir (Herod’s stronghold) and Mount Nebo from where Moses viewed the Promised Land and died. Recently Jordan has ventured into shopping and medical tourism sectors. There are many shopping places, water sports facilities, and the Dead Sea (lowest point on earth at 1,319 feet below sea level). Most tourists are from the GCC states with pockets of religious tourists from the rest of the world.
Significance Of Tourism In The Middle East
Tourism has significantly contributed to the economy of these countries by pumping billions of dollars into the local markets. Oil producing countries like UAE and Qatar must find an economical alternative like tourism once oil reserves run dry. Religious tourism has sustained many of these Middle Eastern countries and will continue to boost their GDP. The sector has also created millions of jobs ranging from tour firms to hotels, transport among others. There is a huge potential for further growth if these nations open their borders and reduce restrictions.