Middle East tourism has been seriously challenged by world events, yet it is bouncing back with renewed vitality. Although the events of 9/11, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome , worldwide terrorist attacks and the Iraq war all impacted on the area's tourism there are plans afoot for the 21st century which should ensure the future for tourism in the Middle East is bright.

Air passenger traffic and hotel occupancy worldwide turned a corner in the first quarter after one of the worst years for the tourism industry in living memory as the global recession saw consumers cut back.

The Middle East has spearheaded the recovery with airlines witnessing double-digit growth in passenger and freight demand and hotels seeing increases in revenues and occupancy in February and March.

The U.N. World Tourism Organisation said last month visitor arrivals in Morocco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia suggested “a strong rebound” in the region.

 “This is going to be a long and steady recovery (for Middle Eastern tourism),” said Smith of Jones Lang LaSalle.

The environmental well-being of tourist destinations is high on the agenda of any new development programme. It has become a regional imperative to achieve a healthy equilibrium between tourist growth and the protection and preservation of natural assets. One example of such an achievement is El Gouna, situated on the Red Sea, which in 2003 was recognised as Egypt's most environmentally friendly destination, receiving four out of eight Green Globe certifications. Other countries with a particular penchant for eco-friendly tourism are Jordan, with a wealth of architectural sites such as Petra and Jerash, and Oman, which goes to great lengths to protect its natural wonders such as shoals of dolphins and nesting turtles. Dubai is also heavily involved in the promotion of eco-friendly tourism.

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