* Outlook for North Africa tourism seen difficult in 2012
* Tunisia tourism minister says must reassure travellers
* Egypt struggling, but Russian demand is a bright spot
* German travel group says Tunisia bookings recovering
By Victoria Bryan and Maria Sheahan
BERLIN, March 8 Egypt and Tunisia are
unlikely to see tourism - a vital prop for their battered
economies - revive anytime soon as holidaymakers continue to
shun North African destinations a year after the "Arab Spring"
Bookings to the two countries collapsed last year after
popular uprisings across the Arab world toppled veteran rulers
in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and forced Yemen's president to
sign away his powers.
"Developments in the Middle East and North Africa are very
difficult to predict at this time," Taleb Rifai,
secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism
Organization (UNWTO), told Reuters at the ITB Berlin travel
"The situation in Syria is still unfolding from bad to
worse. The situation in Yemen is very unclear. And the Arab
Spring is not limited to any one particular country. Uncertainty
is the name of the game now for the immediate future."
Tour operators and governments had expected tourism to
bounce back, but that has proved not to be the case, with many
holidaymakers preferring instead to seek winter sun in the
Canary Islands, the Caribbean or the Maldives.
"We understand that (challenge) perfectly. We have to
reassure them that Tunisia is safe," the country's tourism
minister Elyes Fakhfakh told Reuters on the sidelines of the
The number of international tourists arriving in North
African destinations dropped by 12 percent to 16.4 million last
year, and the Middle East saw visitor numbers decline by 8
percent to 55.4 million, according to UNWTO data.
The body sees growth for the overall Middle East of zero to
5 percent this year, though Rifai said there was a good
possibility arrivals in Egypt and Tunisia could return to
pre-crisis levels by the end of the year.
For the moment, Egypt in particular is still struggling
following an 18 percent drop in tourist nights spent in the
country in 2011, and much is riding on how the political
situation changes over the next few months.
The problem has been compounded by a recent flurry of
kidnappings of foreigners by Bedouin tribesmen in Egypt's Sinai
Peninsula that has drawn attention to deteriorating security in
the isolated desert region since the overthrow of President
Nonetheless, Rifai said he believed the governments of
Tunisia and Egypt had done a good job so far in their efforts to
lure tourists back.
"I think they have done miracles, under the circumstances,"
Egypt has attended more than 180 trade fairs in the last
year to promote its attractions, said Hisham Zaazou, senior
assistant to the country's tourism minister.
It is also the official partner country at the ITB Berlin,
the world's No.1 travel fair.
One bright spot for Egypt has been healthy numbers of
Russian tourists, who have not been deterred by instability in
"Our hotels in the Red Sea areas are filled with Russians",
Ed Fuller, president of Marriot's international division, said.
"They're not intimidated."
Tunisia, which cut its economic growth forecast for 2012
this week, does not expect numbers to return to pre-crisis
levels of 7 million visitors until next year.
"We fell to 5 million visitors last year. We hope we can
make up one million of the shortfall this year, with the
remainder in 2013," Fakhfakh said.
According to German travel association DRV, Germans have
been among the first to return to Tunisia, with current bookings
rising strongly after a drop of around 40 percent last year.
"I don't think we will be back to 2010 levels this year, but
it is catching up a lot," DRV president Juergen Buechy said.
(Editing by Gareth Jones and Sophie Hares)