Beat the crowd: Middle East, North Africa hotspots tout for tourists

Sat Mar 8, 2014 9:29am EST
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By Michelle Martin

BERLIN (Reuters) - Fancy a holiday in Yemen? What about Libya? Iraq, perhaps?

It's a tough sell, but tour operators from locations considered among the world's most dangerous have been trying to drum up interest at the world's biggest travel fair, the ITB Berlin in the German capital.

Their brochures offer tantalizing views of exotic souks, ancient ruins and breathtaking natural scenery, but curious visitors usually end up asking about the latest footage of violence and unrest they've seen on the television news.

"OK, you cannot visit all places in Yemen," conceded Ibrahim Mohamed Al-Attab, deputy marketing manager of the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board. Tourists were generally not at risk in cities, but westerners should avoid crowds, he advised.

Al-Attab, like his counterparts from Iraq and Libya, tried to stress the cultural and natural attractions of his country, ravaged by conflicts in the past half century and well off the beaten track for most travelers.

"But you can visit the city of Sanaa, Socotra island and the famous 'skyscraper city' Shibam, so the most important sites in Yemen are secure," he said, referring to the 16th century mudbrick towers of Shibam.

Among Yemen's visitors are nature buffs and scientists who go to Socotra island, home to unique plants and birds, and archaeologists interested in sites like Sanaa's Old City, tourist board marketing officer Ahmed Y.Al-Washali said.

Most come from China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea: "Those governments don't give such a high alert."   Continued...

A local guide walks on the approach to Ditwa lagoon and beach near the port of Qalensiya, the second biggest town on Yemen's Socotra island November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi