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The countries being snubbed by tourists

Iceland is falling from favour – arrivals for May plummeted 24 per cent Credit: GETTY

Few countries have experienced a tourism boom quite like Iceland’s. In 2010, just 500,000 travellers ventured to its volcanic shores. Last year the figure was 2.3m – an increase of 360 per cent in just eight years. But it would appear the bubble is about to burst.

Arrivals in 2018 were only five per cent up on 2017, and this year things are looking far from rosy. World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) statistics show a drop of 3.7 per cent for the first three months of 2019, while reports last week revealed that year-on-year arrivals for May plummeted 24 per cent.

“The drop in tourist numbers [was] larger than we were expecting,” the Icelandic Travel Industry Association told Bloomberg. A fall of 17 per cent for the whole of 2019 is now predicted, and Reykjavik’s international airport has just laid off 315 workers.

The sudden cut in supply caused by the collapse in March of Wow Air, its biggest budget airline, has exacerbated Iceland’s problems, but it is also thought that negative publicity surrounding “overtourism” in the country has also contributed to a general fall in demand. Concerns have been raised by locals who claim the surge in arrivals has seen Reykjavik “Disneyfied”, while overcrowding at key sites - including those associated with Game of Thrones - has been reported.

Others will argue that all those inspired to visit Iceland by HBO and Eyjafjallajokull in the last nine years have now been – and are going elsewhere. Is Iceland the sort of destination many people return to?

Iceland's bubble is about to burst Credit: GETTY

Hotels have responded to the crisis by cutting rates, while it is hoped the falling value of the Icelandic krona could help it recover – the currency has slumped by around 20 per cent against the dollar in recent months, making trips for millions marginally more affordable.

Iceland isn’t the only nation being shunned by overseas travellers. Several more have seen arrivals decline in the last year or two.

UK

Visitor numbers fell by 3.6 per cent in 2018, according to the UNWTO, though Visit Britain puts the figure at 3.3 per cent. Total spending is down too, with the cost to the UK economy put at £1.6bn. It’s a gloomy picture given that arrivals were predicted to grow following the 2016 vote for Brexit, and the subsequent fall in the value of the pound. Early statistics for 2019 indicate more woes. Just 2.2m travelled to Britain in February, the latest month for which data is available, a year-on-year fall of eight per cent. Visit Britain has blamed the UK’s “expensive” reputation in what is a “fiercely competitive global industry”, as well as general Brexit uncertainty.

Norway

Norway welcomed 6.3m tourists in 2017, up from 4.8m in 2010. But last year that fell 2.7 per cent to around 6.1m.

Like Iceland, Norway is a country where a dip in tourists will be welcomed by some. Overcrowding has been reported at several popular attractions, such as the eye-catching Trolltunga rock formation, and even remote regions like the Lofoten archipelago have become oversubscribed.

Trolltunga Credit: getty

Palau

Getting to Palau is no easy feat. The South Pacific island chain has just one international airport, and Britons hoping to go there face a 22-hour slog with a stop in South Korea. So annual arrivals are understandably small – just 116,000 made it in 2018. But that figure was down 5.4 per cent on the previous year, while the first quarter of 2019 has witnessed a further year-on-year fall of 25.1 per cent.

Why? Because last year Palau entered an unlikely diplomatic arm-wrestle with China. In recent years, Palau has developed strong diplomatic ties with Taiwan. But Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province of China. Inevitably, therefore, China has sought to punish the idyllic archipelago by ordering tour operators to stop selling holidays there. With China accounting for the majority of annual arrivals in Palau, the impact has been profound.

Chile

Argentina’s economic problems have been blamed for Chile’s tourism slump. Its neighbour to the east has for years been Chile’s biggest inbound market, but the spiralling value of the Argentinian peso (it is one of the world’s worst performing currencies) has made overseas trips too costly for many. The upshot has been an 11.3 per cent fall in overseas visitors for 2018, and a 27.3 per cent drop for the first three months of 2019.

Other South American countries are also suffering. Paraguay and Uruguay, two more neighbours of Argentina, saw arrivals fall by 24 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively, in 2018, and they dipped by 20 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively, during the first quarter of 2019.   

Chile's Atacama desert Credit: GETTY

Saudi Arabia

Last year was hardly an annus mirabilis for Saudi Arabia. The death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the regime, on October 2 – murdered in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul by a hit squad dispatched from Riyadh – plunged the kingdom’s image to new depths. Nevertheless, it chose last year to issue its first ever tourist visas so a spattering of Westerners could witness a Formula E event. The scheme is part of a grand plan to steer the national economy away from a reliance on oil, and into other markets – including tourism. These plans are in their infancy, however, and last year overseas arrivals actually fell by 4.8 per cent.

The drop would perhaps have been greater were it not for the fact that the vast majority of travellers to Saudi Arabia are pilgrims visiting Mecca.  

Qatar

Another Middle Eastern nation with a controversial regime, Qatar’s drop in arrivals (down 6.8 per cent for 2019 and 5.8 per cent for 2019 so far) is a direct consequence of its diplomatic crisis. Since June 2017 a dozen countries, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, have severed diplomatic  ties with Qatar, and banned Qatari planes from entering their airspace, over alleged support for terrorism.

Have you visited the countries on this list recently? Why do you think they are falling out of favour with tourists? Share your view in the comments section below. 

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Summary | 1 Annotations
Few countries have experienced a tourism boom quite like Iceland’s. In 2010, just 500,000 travellers ventured to its volcanic shores. Last year the figure was 2.3m – an increase of 360 per cent in just eight years. But it would appear the bubble is about to burst.
2019/06/24 17:38