At this time of the year, citizens of Gulf nations start taking off to several parts of the world not only to escape the scorching summer heat in the region, but also to take a break from a usually hectic year.
A large portion of Gulf citizens, especially families, has for years preferred traveling to the nearby Arab countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Syria. However, with the series of revolutions sweeping the region and the subsequent security concerns, they started looking for further destinations.
Turkey has to a great extent replaced Egypt for many Gulf tourists, said Karim Mohammed, an employee at the al-Saad Travel in Kuwait.
“The increasing popularity of Turkish soap operas has also played a major role in attracting Gulf tourists,” he told Al Arabiya. “Many of them request a visit to the mansions in which those soap operas were filmed.”
Ottoman palaces and Princess Islands, Mohamed added, are among the most popular sites in Turkey for Gulf tourists.
“However, some of them ask to visit places in Turkey that nobody has heard.”
For example, he explained, there were requests for the city of Trabzon on the Black Sea which is famous for its natural beauty and its lakes as well as the cities of Amasra and Rize, also on the Black Sea.
“Unlike what used to happen before, tourists now come to us with information about places we have never heard of and they almost have their trip fully planned and just need travel agencies for bookings.”
Latin America, Mohamed added, is now one of many favorite destinations among Kuwaiti youth.
“A group of them came to me and wanted to start their trip from Venezuela then Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, and finally Argentina. They had pictures of amazing places like Lake Titicaca, the Andes, Sao Paulo, and others.”
Several places in Asia that are not known as tourist attractions are also requested, Mohamed noted, like Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.
“As for Africa, some tourists demand very specific places there like one who wanted to visit the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.”
Very specific requests also extend to the Caribbean for instead of the regular cruises, some tourists ask for a particular island.
“One of my clients wanted to go to the island of Martinique. It is one the most beautiful islands ever.”
Regarding the costs of such trips, Mohamed said this depends on several factors.
“One trip can cost $100 and another $100,000. Depends on the place and if they are traveling in groups. The most expensive are trips to the Amazons and Fiji islands.”
Fahd al-Kandari, from Kuwait, said he is planning to go to Malaysia this summer.
“I heard about Genting Theme Park which is located above the clouds and I saw amazing pictures of it, so I booked it for my family and I,” he told Al Arabiya.
Kandari added that he has a budget of $10,000 for this trip for a 20-day period and during which he is planning to visit Malaysia’s most important attractions.
“I love to explore new places and if I wasn’t going with my family to Malaysia, I would join my friends on their trip to Fiji.”
Badr al-Hamadi, from Dubai, said he has been particularly interested in Asia in the past few years.
“I went to many islands in east Asia,” he told Al Arabiya. “They are so beautiful and uncontaminated. I particularly love the islands of Indonesia especially Bonshak.”
This year, however, he is going to Kazakhstan.
“Many of my friends recommended former Soviet republics and said I will especially enjoy hunting there.’
Despite his love for traveling to distant places, Hamadi stressed he is also very interested in exploring the Gulf region.
“I visited the Socotra island in Yemen and was amazed when I saw that it is home to the world’s rarest plants and birds. The Jarzir Valley and the Salala archipelago in Oman are among the most beautiful places in the world. There are many unexplored places in the region and they need more attention.”
Hamadi said he does not care how much the trip would cost but rather how much he would enjoy it.
“Some trips can cost me up to $60,000, especially ones where I rent yachts and villas. In Europe in the summer, accommodation alone can cost more than $80,000.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)