A heat map from French tourism professionals, forced to rethink where to send eager would-be globetrotters in the face of new and old security threats.
PARIS — Five years after the Arab Spring, our blue planet has more and more zones turning red and orange. These are two of the three colors used by the French Foreign Ministry to rank countries around the world according to their relative degrees of security.
Traveling to countries classified in red is officially discouraged, the orange color indicates that a trip should be avoided unless there is an absolute necessity. Countries ranked in green — ordinary vigilance advised — are growing scarcer and scarcer. Beyond Western countries, they include Russia, South Korea, Japan and Mongolia.
In the Arab-Muslim world, the only remaining countries classified as greenare Morocco, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Turkey shows a mixed picture, as a result of its common borders with Syria and Iraq, as well as the jihadist threat and the Kurdish guerilla forces of the PKK.
The Foreign Ministry, whose travel advice is often criticized for being too restrictive by tour operators, has also added a yellow "reinforced monitoring" signal. It applies to most countries located in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America. Many of these travel destinations remain nonetheless very attractive, as travelers, who are more and more well informed, are able to measure the risk themselves and make their own decisions. Brazil for instance, in spite of the Zika virus outbreak and the current political and social unrest, was rather popular this winter. Thailand also remains a favorite, despite some drops in tourist influx over the past years.
The turmoil in the Arab-Muslim world seems to have had a minimal impact on travel to Islamic countries in Asia. Indonesia, among others, has recovered from a drop last year. We cannot say as much about the southern shore of the Mediterranean, where the booking rate is still low. In France, the dramatic consequences of the Arab Springhave completely upset the tourism sector, affecting not only the operators of residential clubs but also those specialized in tour circuits and hiking.
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Empty beach in Sousse, Tunisia — Photo: Tony Hisgett
According to the French tour operator trade union (SETO), in 2010, Tunisia and Morocco, the two top foreign travel destinations favored by the French, along with Turkey and Egypt accounted for one third of the holiday package market in France. Five years later, the landscape has changed dramatically. Tunisia is now relegated to the seventh position, with its tourist turnover having plummeted six-fold. Egypt has almost completely disappeared. Though still considered as a safe country, Morocco is also facing difficulties, with its tourist business at less than half of that in 2010.
Such lasting and inexorable geopolitical conflicts have forced French tour operators to focus on Southern Europe and the Canary Islands. Spain, which used to be the most popular destination, has regained all of its former appeal. The aftermath of the Arab Spring has also paved the way for the resurgence of Greece as a destination, though this year's refugee crisis could have negative consequences. Portugal, meanwhile, is more popular than ever.
The search for a low-cost alternative to Tunisia leads to Bulgaria, but hope for its tourism development has yet to materialize, mostly due to the eastern European country's lack of transportation networks.
Let's also remember that shifting geopolitics can reopen old travel routes, as evidenced by both Iran and Cuba brightening up the blue planet for world travelers.