The world is changing rapidly. Due to the tech-revolution, information has become much more easily accessible and the speed in the world around us seems much higher than only a few years ago. In the Middle East, the impact of this change may be double not only because of the fact that freedom of information is not always guaranteed, and internet speeds are often limited, but also because of the whole geo-political instability the region is suffering from. Instability and fast progress are not great friends. This means that a region in dire need of catching up with the future is instead slowly losing this battle – and it shouldn’t.
Especially in tourism, the changes have come quickly. The internet has not only changed the amount of information people can process, but has also created a much more individually shaped market – people can now easily book flights and accommodation by themselves. The instability in the region has halted big package group tourism, but individual adventure tourism is still viable and those tourists are still interested to come to the region. However, they need to be catered for. But since innovation means change and requires a different way of working and thinking, we see that the region is only adapting slowly to the new realities. Because, in this region, innovation and progress are often halted by stifling bureaucracy, slow systems and a fear of change – people did never learn to think ‘out of the box’, and shaking up ‘the system’ is in general frowned upon here, in the Middle East.
This means, that the region, and especially the all-important tourism industry, is hit double by the geo-political crisis: not only does this crisis mean less visitors, but catering to the new markets that are still willing to come proves a challenge, since change, innovation in the market, is seen as a challenge.
Therefore it is imperative to re-focus on change-management and lateral thinking. Get rid of the rules and focus on what is really needed. Because without that, the biggest industry in countries like Jordan and Egypt will not be able to reach new highs, and that may, in the not so distant future, lead to further destabilisation of the Middle East.
Theo van de Laar (1972) is a Dutch national and works as a consultant on eco and community based tourism. He is currently based in Amman, Jordan, and is available for short-term consultancy worldwide.