UN hails Egyptian, Tunisian moves to restore tourism

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MADRID: The UN World Tourism Organization welcomed Thursday moves by Egypt and Tunisia to restore normality to their key tourism sectors after the popular uprisings that toppled the leaders of both countries.

Both nations are favored destinations for Europeans seeking Mediterranean sun and ancient ruins but tourists fled the two countries in droves after the protests erupted last month, first in Tunisia, then in Egypt.

The upheaval of recent weeks and media coverage of days of violent clashes have combined to scare off visitors although Western capitals like London and Paris have eased their travel warnings to both nations as the dust settles.

The Madrid-based UN World Tourism Organization said it "welcomes efforts by the national authorities of Egypt and Tunisia to restore confidence among tourists and by foreign governments to update travel advisories accordingly."

"Tourism is a central component of both countries’ economies and, as tourists begin to return, can play an important role in overall economic recovery," it added in a statement.

The head of the UN tourism body, Jordan’s Taleb Rifai, said he was "pleased to see that travel advisories have been kept accurate, confined to the affected areas and regularly updated."

Egypt, ruled by the military since the ouster on Feb. 11 of president Hosni Mubarak, reopened its historic sites, including the Great Pyramids and the antiquities museum in Cairo, to tourism on Sunday.

Both Egypt and Tunisia are mostly calm for now but tourism experts say the fear of a backslide into chaos is likely to deter many visitors in the short term.

Egypt reported 12 million international tourist arrivals in 2009 and preliminary results for 2010 are 14 million arrivals, who generated $12.5 billion (€9.1 billion) in tourism receipts that year, according to the World Travel Organization.

Tunisia received seven million international visitors in 2009, the last year for which figures are available, who generated $3.0 billion in tourism receipts.

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