| 21 July 2024, Sunday |

MENA welcomes ‘new dawn’ for diverse experiences: UNESCO’s 2023 world heritage additions

On World Tourism Day 2023, it is worth noting that tourism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has experienced notable developments and changes in recent years.

While the region has long been a destination for cultural, historical, and natural attractions, a “new dawn” of tourism is rising, introducing new products, changing the landscape, and welcoming new tourists.

In Qatar, for example, tourism surged after the 2022 FIFA World Cup, while Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is reinforcing its position as an international destination for food tourism.

With its diverse tourism offerings, MENA countries have been actively expanding to attract a broader range of visitors.

Beyond historical and cultural attractions, there is a growing emphasis on adventure tourism, eco-tourism, wellness tourism, and luxury travel experiences.

However, heritage stands as one of the most essential aspects of tourism and plays a significant role in attracting sightseers to destinations around the region.

In 2023, UNESCO inscribed new “Middle Eastern” sites on its World Heritage List, a prestigious international designation that recognizes and protects cultural and natural areas of outstanding value.

In Saudi Arabia, UNESCO added the ‘Uruq Bani Ma’arid to its list. The property contains the western part of the incredible expanse of windblown sand on Earth, known as Ar Rub’ al-KhaIi, and preserves one of the Earth’s most stunning desert landscapes.

Meanwhile, in Palestine, the Ancient Jericho/Tell es-Sultan was inscribed. Situated in the Jordan Valley, the property is an oval-shaped tell containing prehistorical deposits of human activity and has the adjacent perennial spring of ‘Ain es-Sultan.

A settlement had arisen by the 9th to 8th millennium BC due to the fertile soil and easy access to water. Additionally, skulls and statues on the site attest to cultic practices among the Neolithic populations living there.

In Tunisia, UNESCO featured the “Djerba: Testimony to a settlement pattern in an island territory,” a serial property representing a testimony to a settlement that developed on the island of Djerba around the 9th century CE.

In Iran (Islamic Republic of), the Persian Caravanserai was added. The Caravanserais were roadside inns, supplying shelter, food, and water for caravans, pilgrims, and other travelers.

The fifty-four caravanserais of the property are a slight percentage of the multiple caravanserais built along the ancient roads of Iran.

It is also worth noting that the Landmarks of the Ancient Kingdom of Saba, Marib, in Yemen, was also inscribed in 2023 on the List of World Heritage in Danger. It is featured by a serial property containing seven archaeological sites that witness the Kingdom of Saba and its architectural and technological triumphs from the 1st millennium BCE to the arrival of Islam.

As the Middle East and North Africa region continues to welcome visitors with diverse interests and backgrounds, its heritage sites will continue to play a crucial role in preserving its cultural identity and contributing to the region’s sustainable growth.

  • LBCI