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It may not have the party culture of southern Europe or the theme parks of popular American resorts, but the Middle East is a destination with an incredible variety of experiences to offer. It is a place for those who take travel seriously and want to learn something new about the world, and it’s also a place for dreamers who want to explore a rich cultural landscape that will satiate their senses. The number of visitors to the region grew by 6.4% last year, with more and more people deciding that the time has come to discover it for themselves.
Getting to know the real Middle East
Outside the region itself, most people’s knowledge of the Middle East comes from what they see on television or read in newspapers. Upon visiting, they’re often surprised to discover how different the reality is. For those willing to venture outside the tourist resorts and explore the cities or the many beautiful rural landscapes beyond them, there’s a chance to see how ordinary people live their lives, to visit the shops they use rather than the ones aimed at tourists, and to uncover hidden places every bit as beautiful and as historically important as those promoted in the guidebooks. Hotel staff are often helpful in providing advice on local places of interest and on the best places to see locally produced art and eat authentic local food.
Middle Eastern diversity
The Middle East encompasses a great deal of cultural diversity, from the easy-going, often westward-looking atmosphere of Morocco to the ancient traditions of Egypt and the religious intensity of Mecca and Jerusalem. Arab, Berber and Persian cultures mingle in places while different approaches to religion change the ways in which they are expressed. It’s impossible to fully appreciate the variety of experiences the Middle East has to offer, without visiting it for oneself.
An increasing number of people are visiting the Middle East on business, and the accommodation facilities and services offered to such travellers by the major business centres are highly impressive. Kuwaiti businessman Fahad Al-Rajaan, who made his fortune in real estate, is testament to the fact that growth rates right across the region are impressively high, with some cities now among the most dynamic business environments in the world. Having worked outside the region, he is well placed to know. What he does in his spare time also explains part of the region’s attraction for business people – it has some fabulous golf courses.
Although every country is different, the Middle East overall is a region where good manners are highly important, so visitors should be careful to be polite at all times in order to avoid upsetting the locals. Female visitors should be prepared to cover their hair and upper arms in some countries. Almost all Middle Eastern countries frown on the consumption of alcohol, and in several it is illegal.
If you have any concerns about security in the area you plan to visit, check the government’s foreign travel advice pages online for the latest updates. Most of the Middle East is both safe and welcoming, and you’ll find it a fascinating place to explore.