As 2011 counts down to its final weeks, the spirit and momentum of events of the first days of the new year continue to hold the Arab world, and world at large, in its grip. ‘Arab Spring‘, a flowing stream of revolution and reform that has been spreading across North Africa and the Middle East throughout 2011, has proven to have profound ripple effects across the globe.

2011 has been a year of global reawakening, reshaping and reconnecting. No longer are events in one part of the world simply short-term news headlines, pushed aside with short-term memory. Now, with each new story, a new question of “what does this mean here, for me?” emerges.

Interestingly, with the region’s social, political and economic structures breaking apart, a bonding has been occurring. Collective conscience has transcended borders, cultures, religions and political ideologies. One by one, as nationals have courageously stood forward to create essential change in their countries, they have found the people of the world standing beside them.

Just days ago at WTM 2011, one of the world’s largest coming together to global tourism leaders, policy makers, captains of industry, media and members of government, a special UNWTO seminar was held to put a spotlight on “The Future of Tourism in the Middle East and North Africa”. The MENA region, heavily dependent on the tourism industry for employment, earnings, investment, trade and unity, felt the heaviest rain showers of the Arab Spring. With global travellers uncertain of the safety and stability of regional tourism destinations experiencing political overthrow, visitation to leading regional destinations Egypt and Tunisia plummeted (offering, interestingly, destinations such as Greece, Turkey and the GCC states a surprise injection of travellers re-routing their plans). As the Arab Spring moved through the MENA region’s summer and autumn seasons, tourist confidence strengthened, strengthening visitor arrivals. Still, as winter approaches, the year’s stats will show a deep chill, with leading regional destinations Egypt and Tunisia expecting year on year declines of 25% – 30%.

Acutely aware of the need to rebuild regional tourism, urgently and collectively, the UNWTO brought together a panel of regional champions of tourism from both the public and private sector, including HE Mr Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, Minister of Tourism of EGYPT and HE Mr Mehdi Houas, Minister of Tourism of TUNISIA, JORDAN’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, HE Nayef Al Fayez, and senior leadership of Jumeirah Group Dubai, Etihad Airways and Thomas Cook.

While each voice conveyed a different story of the effects of regional uprisings, one thing was clear: together they are united in a shared commitment to see the region’s tourism sector emerge stronger, safer, and more competitive on the global travel stage than ever before.

Traditional rival destinations have become bonded by crisis. Learnings are being shared, partnerships are being forged, issues are being collectively lobbied, and opportunities are being unlocked. Together, spirit is being restored, confidence rebuilt and possibility turned to probability. Recovery is underway.

To see, and feel, this firmness of spirit is not just inspiring, it is empowering. And it is a reminder of the gift that crisis can offer.

As shared by Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO, emerging from crisis “is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning how to dance in the rain.”

How remarkable it is to pause while dancing to see who is dancing alongside, sharing their umbrella.

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2011