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When 'Middle East' really means Arab

November 24, 2016 22:51

We are, in case you need reminding, half way through 2009; it is 31 years since the Camp David agreement, close to 20 years since the Arab boycott of Israel officially ended and 16 years since Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn, leading - supposedly - to the normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours.


Yet how often does the phrase "Middle Eastern" in any kind of commercial context, actually include Israel, and how often is it a handy euphemism for "Arab nations", invariably excluding Israel.


This is always made very clear at the UK's main travel exhibition, World Travel Market, held each November - these days at ExCel in Docklands, but in former years at Earls Court. Whatever the venue, the "Middle East" invariably fails to include Israel; at last November's show, Israel was somewhere between Greece and Portugal in the North Hall sector entitled "Europe and Mediterranean", while all of its geographical neighbours were located in the South Hall sector named "Middle East and North Africa". The organizers of WTM may, of course, have placed Israel there on security grounds, possibly at the request of Israel.


But no such excuse exists for the World Travel Awards Middle East Gala Ceremony, held in Dubai on May 5.


There were awards in 42 categories, from best Middle East Airline and best Middle East Airport, to best hotel, best car-hire, best leisure hotel, best MICE hotel (conference and incentives, not rodents), jet charter, spa resort, beach resort, tourist board, travel agency... the list goes on. With anything from three to 10 nominees per category, that is somewhere in the region of 250 nominees. There were nominees in Lebanon, Dubai, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Oman, Dohar, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Egypt - in fact every Middle Eastern Arab country you can name (apart, possibly, from Iraq, for whom tourism has not been a priority of late). And guess what? Not a single one in Israel.


Media partners for this segment of the World Travel Awards include BBC World News (and why does that nor surprise me?), Eurostar, Europcar, Virgin Atlantic, the Travel Foundation and about a dozen others. Did it occur to none of them that "Middle East" doesn't actually mean Middle East, or is doing business with Arab countries so delicate that a bout of selective myopia is necessary.


I might find it all less distasteful if the organizers of the World Travel Awards didn't hide behind this phoney, all-inclusive "Middle East". Just come out and call it the Arab Travel Awards, and at least you would earn a few brownie points for honesty.


I note from the press release that arrived in my email inbox that "this year around 42,000 voters participated in selecting winners for the Middle East's best airlines, hotels, tourist attractions, destinations, tourist boards, amongst many others". Voters were apparently also asked to vote on "micro favourites such as Middle East's Leading Suite, Middle East's Leading Travel Website", blah blah...

I just wonder whether any of the 42,000 voters nominated an Israeli hotel, website, suite, airport or hire-car firm, and if so, was that nomination deleted, or is there such a widespread - if tacit - realization that "Middle East" means "Arab" that they knew it would be pointless to nominate anything Israeli and therefore toed the unofficial boycott line. I have not, of course, seen all 42,000 nominations, so there coule have been a few nominations for Israel in there. But if so, how odd that not a single aspect of Israel's high-quality tourism offerings - not a suite, not a spa, not an airport lounge - deserved to win or get second, third or fourth place in one of the 42 categories. 

And if that is the case, I wonder whether anyone challenged the organizers on the absence of Israel from "the Middle East awards". And if not, it is about time someone in the travel industry did so.

November 24, 2016 22:51

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