Sindyanna Ngo CanaBlog

Bedtime Monsters and Travel to the Arab World

Tourists are no longer visiting the Arab world and it's a trend which worries us...

As children, how many of us lay awake at night too scared to leave our beds because of the monsters which lay in wait beneath? We always thought we’d grow up to become brave adults. In reality, though, all that changes are the things we are scared of. The strangest thing about fear, is how completely unfounded it usually is.

Over the past few years, our small team here at The STC has watched as the travel and tourism sector has responded to the growing fear of its clients. The Arab Spring saw the beginning of loss of confidence in many regions of the Middle East and North Africa, and more recently travellers to Europe have begun questioning if France should still be the tourism capital of the World.

Being an office full of travellers, adventurers and adrenalin junkies, there aren’t many things which scare us, but there is one thing which is raising the hairs on the back of our necks. And it’s not what you might expect:

We are nervous about the decline in tourism to the Arab world.

At first, it might not seem like a big thing but trust us, it is. The travel industry across the Arab world is suffering from painful memories of the Arab Spring and the 2015 Tunisia attacks, to a tainted association with Islamic State and the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine. The list goes on and it has all had a marked effect on tourism; and tourism brings two things: money and cross-cultural understanding. 

Our worry is twofold: firstly, how unfounded many of these fears are, and secondly, where we, as a world, are heading.

While events of the past may still shape our decisions, time moves on and, as such, we as consumers must learn to re-evaluate our perceptions of the world and the things around us.  

Take Jordan. Visitor numbers to key sites such as Petra dropped by as much as 32% in the first eight months of 2015. Tourists are no doubt worried about its proximity to Syria, but if you were to ask a local, they would probably describe their position as the eye of the storm, a peaceful haven in a sometimes turbulent Arab world.

Back home, in the wake of Brexit, xenophobic incidents spiked by 57% according to police records. As the actions of Islamic State increase, so does anti-Muslim prejudice, with hijab wearing women perhaps suffering the most.

Are we witnessing a world beginning to divide?

We believe, therefore, it is more important than ever to share with students the cultural and geographical wonders of the Arab world and the Middle East. School trips to countries such as Jordan, Morocco, Iran and The Holy Land are a unique opportunity to educate the next generation and to demonstrate to them the importance of basing our decisions on true facts, not those bandied about by a ratings fixated media and our unreliable memories.

It is all too easy for us to be swayed by the news, particularly with the constant updates technology allow us. The media’s portrayal of a country, or religion for that matter, is not necessarily the true one. There are three sides to every story. One incident in one town does not make a country unsafe. Old images and misleading statistics can taint a story and subconsciously feed our perceptions and worries. As we build a reliance on the internet as our source of information, it is vital we teach young people the importance of stepping out of the bright light of the media and into the real world. It is vital we let our young people create their own opinions and judgements.

Now, more than ever, is the time to reach out to all countries and religions, especially those who are most stigmatised by western media.

We must teach our future generations the power of knowledge, diversity and acceptance. Cultural differences are something that should be celebrated. If we hide behind our walls, we will get more and more scared by and distrusting of those on the other side.  We have more in common than we do that separates us. 

Spouting statistics at those who are worried is not always a good way to change minds, but it’s simply not true that the Arab world is not safe. In fact, according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, Iran, Jordan and Morocco ranked at a lower threat of terrorism than the UK, France and Thailand with respective scores of 39, 85 and 92 versus 28, 36 and 10 out of the 162 countries measured. 

Instead of fearing risks overseas which are, if we’re truthful, so small as to not worth worrying about, we should be scared of what these missed opportunities are taking from our youth: the chance to meet incredible people, learn about fascinating cultures, history, architecture and the understanding that this experience brings them.

Travel to the Arab world is eye opening. It challenges our preconceived notions of these countries and their people, and forces us to recreate our opinions from scratch. We must teach our future generations to take the opportunity to learn, question and think, so that they can make a well balanced judgement.

Fear dries a man’s mouth and hate strangles him. That’s why hate has no great literature: real fear and hate have no words. – Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

Fear of a name increases fear of a thing itself – J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter

These two quotes tell us something important about fear: it is irrational, it makes no sense and it robs us of our judgement. So let’s escape the box which IS and the like are persuading us to build around our lives, and set young people on the path of enlightenment, stamp out the fear and hate and share with them the wonders of the Arab world that only travel can bring.