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What to Know About Travel to Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon

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Pia Abboud’s tour business, Discovery Beyond Borders, was already hurting after a trifecta of crises hit her native Lebanon. “Worldwide we had COVID, but in Lebanon, we also had the economic crisis, the Beirut explosion [in 2020], and now the war [in] Gaza and Palestine, which is affecting the south of Lebanon and the region in general,” she said via WhatsApp.

Abboud hasn’t led any tours since October 7, when the war between Israel and Hamas began. Seven months in, she isn’t sure how long she’ll be able to stay in business. “How resilient should we be? Every year there is another surprise that hits, and each time we think it can’t get any worse, and yet it does,” she said.

Jordanian guide Ahmad Alomari had just gotten home from a hiking-guide training in Utah and Wyoming when the war started. What was expected to be a busy high season amounted to cancellation after cancellation. Alomari said he’s seen a 90 percent drop in bookings compared to 2022. “I was thinking of selling my farm and investing out[side] of tourism, but at the same time, everything in Jordan is impacted, and no one is interested in buying,” he said.

Basem Salah, co-founder of Great Wonders of Egypt Travel, has also seen his bookings plummet since October. “The Gaza conflict has affected our cultural as well as beach tourism badly,” said Salah. In all three countries bordering Israel, the war is having a ripple effect on an important pillar of their economies: tourism.

Tourism had been on the rise

When the war began, Lebanon was still coping with one of the worst economic crises since the mid-19th century, which was brought on by a confluence of factors, including mounting debt, political instability, and financial mismanagement. But things had been improving in summer 2023 thanks in part to a “tourism boom.” A couple of months later, visitors stopped coming, and the World Bank predicted that Lebanon’s economy could reverse into further recession.

Egypt was also seeing travel pick up. After its economy suffered from a spike in grain prices related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 2023 was one of the country’s best years for tourism on record, the government said, though visitor numbers aren’t as high as predicted and aren’t expected to return until U.S. and European travelers do.

Jordan’s tourism industry was skyrocketing in 2023 as well, but in November, travelers from the United States dropped by 90 percent, and British, French, Italian, German, and Spanish visitors all but stopped coming as well. According to Hakim Al-Tamimi, Jordan tourism board’s representative for Western Europe and adventure travel, 4,531 Spanish travelers came to Jordan in September 2023, while just 747 visited the country in February 2024. The decline in visitors is especially significant for an economy like Jordan’s, which receives 14.6 percent of its gross domestic product from tourism (for context, the United States reached 2.9 percent in 2023).

Tour operators and hotels have had to lay off staff, leaving workers with few options for employment in Jordan’s fragile economy. “A lot of the things that, with all due respect, Western people take for granted, we just simply don’t have,” said Al-Tamimi. “We don’t have the concept of unemployment checks.”

A journalist who recently traveled to Wadi Rum reported that she had the glamping outpost entirely to herself.

What it’s like to travel to Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon now

Recent visitors and operators on the ground say world-famous sites like Petra in Jordan, Lebanon’s Baalbek Roman Ruins, and the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt are rather empty. “It is a recommended time to travel actually,” said Salah of Great Wonders of Egypt.

Yulia Denisyuk, a freelance journalist who visited Jordan on multiple occasions in the past seven years, said that when she was there in February, there was barely anyone in Wadi Rum and no one else at her favorite accommodation, Rum Planet Camp. “It was very surreal: Jordan is always calm but was even more so now without tourists there,” she said. “But it was also eerie and heartbreaking to know that [war] is happening so close to where we stood.”

Karolanne Emery, a teacher who embarked on a weeklong dive trip from London to Egypt in February, said she had a great time in Hurghada and Dahab, and she plans to return this October. “Honestly, apart from the Palestine flags, you would never know that there was a war happening in the next country,” she said.

Travel journalist Dayvee Sutton visited Lebanon on a 33-hour stopover in mid-October near the beginning of the war and said a short trip wasn’t nearly enough. “I only had two days and wish I stayed a week,” she said.

As of press time, the U.S. State Department lists a travel advisory for Jordan as a Level 2, or “exercise increased caution,” while Lebanon and Egypt are listed as Level 3 or “reconsider travel.” The highest level is 4, which is a “do not travel” advisory.

The Baalbek Roman Ruins in Lebanon featuring only a facade of six columns

The Baalbek Roman Ruins in Lebanon have traditionally been a popular cultural attraction for visitors.

Photo by Chloe Christine/Unsplash

Travel to the Middle East isn’t expected to return en masse as long as the war continues, but some in the industry are seeing signs that not all travelers are staying away.

Tour operator Intrepid says bookings for its tours to Egypt and Jordan “are strong,” and Alexandra Baackes of Wander Women Retreats said her 14-woman trip to Jordan for May 2024 was sold out. “We definitely have done a lot of guest reassurance around traveling to Jordan at this time, even offering to speak directly to some of our guests’ families who had hesitations,” she said. “As heartbreaking as the situation is right now across the border, I feel confident that our guests in Jordan and Egypt will not be impacted. If anything, they will find thinner crowds and even wider open arms than usual.”

The situation is different in Lebanon, which sees frequent missile fire over its southern border (Beirut, Egyptian Red Sea towns, and an U.S. Army base in northeastern Jordan on the border with Syria have also experienced strikes). Abboud of Discovery Beyond Borders in Lebanon doesn’t expect business to pick back up for at least a year—though her booking calendar is no longer empty. “I’m hosting three groups in the next two months,” she said. “But I still cannot deny that I am nervous every day that something is going to happen and they might cancel.”

“Honestly, we live day by day with no predictions or long-term plan,” she said.

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