Touring Exotic Lands
Waleed Hazbun (University of Alabama)
Global Middle East: Into the Twenty-First Century, edited by by Asef Bayat and Linda Herrera (University of California Press, 2021), pp. 225-239.
The Middle East and North Africa has long attracted global visitors to its pilgrimage locations, sunny beaches, ancient ruins, and cultural heritage sites. More recently in the twenty-first century, Dubai has emerged as a mega tourism destination. Across the region, policy makers, private firms, and various societal actors have promoted tourism as a means to meet the challenges and opportunities of globalization and global integration. In the post–World War II period, as countries throughout the region gained national independence, international tourism was often viewed as an engine for economic growth. From the 1990s, tourism became a means to promote economic liberalization and global economic integration. By 2016 the region represented about 5.5 percent of both international tourism arrivals and tourist receipts, while the direct and indirect contribution of travel and tourism amounted to 8 percent of GDP and 7 percent of employment in the region. Regional conflicts and political instability, however, often disrupt tourism flows across the region, while tourism spaces serve as contact zones between hosts and guests, where disparities in economic wealth, political power, and cultural differences are often on display. As a result, tourism is subject to political struggle and at times a target for violence. Taken together, these aspects of tourism allow it to serve as a lens to explore the region’s political economy and geopolitics as well as the emergence of the global Middle East.