The Middle East is a loosely defined geographic region with most of the countries belonging to western Asia with the exception of Egypt, which is part of Africa, and the north western part of Turkey which is part of Europe. The countries within this region are Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Cyprus and Bahrain. Although this region is the smallest, it is the fastest growing tourist generating region in the world, with the outbound travel segment- growing at a very rapid rate and is expected to increase further in the coming years. This surge in outbound travel is the result of stronger economic conditions, rising disposable income, population growth and the rise in middle income expatriates traveling back home to visit family. Business travel too has risen with renewed investments in the country and closer international ties between companies. In the year 2012 outbound departures recorded a rise of 9% despite the negative impact of political unrest in the Middle East. This growth rate of 9% is the highest in the world and is well above the global rate of 3.5%.
Middle Eastern travelers usually travel in large groups and they tend to stay longer when they travel abroad, as most families travel during the long summer break. This segment of travelers also tends to spend a lot of money when they travel overseas, with most of them spending on luxury holidays and shopping. Branded items of clothing and the latest gadgets are popular items to purchase, among these travelers. Most outbound travel from this region is to destinations within the Middle East region; this being mostly due to the fact that most Muslim travelers are more comfortable in familiar surroundings and being able to find Muslim-friendly facilities without much difficulty plays an important role. Finding adequate prayer facilities and halal restaurants plays an important part in deciding on the holiday destination. Most of these travelers choose to travel within the Middle East as they have a similar lifestyle and therefore are able to find necessary facilities with ease. These are however, just a few of the factors that influence outbound travel to certain destinations.
The main travel markets are in the gulf countries and this region is home to a young economy with 50% of its population below the age of 25. Travelers from the gulf region mostly travel within the Middle East however; those who do choose to travel out of this region mostly choose countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. This is mainly due to the fact that these countries provide Muslim-friendly facilities. European countries like United Kingdom and France are popular destinations among this region as well. Travelers to Europe mainly consist of young males and most of these travelers belong to a high disposable income group. Those traveling abroad are mostly families, young educated males and the wealthy. Middle income expats working in the Middle East is another segment of the outbound travel industry, with most visiting their countries once a year to be with family and friends.
Countries that want to cater to this region and increase the number of Middle Eastern tourist visiting their countries need to provide better Muslim-friendly facilities and include them in their marketing and business plans, as well as target the various travel segments in the region. The largest group of travelers is those traveling for leisure. Some of the other reasons for travel are business, health, religion and education. The Middle Eastern population is a fast growing one and is a young population, known for being more adventurous than the previous generation, and are more educated. Many of them want to travel around the globe and explore and experience these diverse countries.