The tourism industry should welcome the political changes in Tunisia and Egypt and not view the region as in crisis, according to the head of the UN World Tourism Organisation.


UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai told a Global Tourism Forum in Andorra: “I would not label what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East as a crisis. We need to be careful how we label events. They may deliver opportunities.


“The events are a surprise. But tourism is good at reacting. Already we see tour operators going back into Tunisia, optimistic about going back. We see people adding Tahrir Square to the tourism attractions of Cairo. People adapt to new circumstances.”


Tahrir Square was the centre of the uprising against deposed Egyptian president Mubarak. Rifai added: “I don’t believe events in the region will affect our global forecast of 4%-5% growth [in worldwide tourism] this year.”


Sebastian Escarrer Jaume, vice-chariman of Spanish hotel group Sol Melia, agreed. But he had a warning for Spain. Jaume said: “The short term effect on tourism can be severe. We have four hotels in Egypt and two are closed. Short-term instability is not good for tourism. But in the medium term what is happening is very good. Democracy will be extremely good for the region.”


However, Jaume warned: “Spain has rebounded this year because of the events. This is dangerous because Spain is required to make structural changes. The danger is Spain will think tourism has come back and it doesn’t need to do anything.“Next year Egypt and Tunisia will bounce back with lower prices and Spain will be in trouble.”