In fact, longtime operator to the region Adventures
Abroad reported a temporary downturn in interest in itineraries to Persian Gulf destinations when the “Arab spring”
uprisings began in January.
“We noticed a drop in inquiries for tours to the region
earlier in the year when the unrest was all over the news,”
said Martin Charlton, assistant manager, destination spe-
cialist and senior tour leader at the Blaine, Wash.-based op-
erator. “But it appears as though enough time has passed,
and travelers are again feeling confident about traveling to
Regional unrest aside, Kuwait — well off and largely free
of domestic strife — faces other challenges. Currently, ac-
cording to Kuwait Tourism Services, 82% of visitors (most
arriving from neighboring states) do not stay overnight in
the country, and the average visitor spend per head is less
than $100. Moreover, visits from abroad have dropped
sharply in the last three years from the peak of 3. 8 million
in 2008, sparking private-sector concerns that the nascent
inbound leisure market might falter. According to London-
based research firm Euromonitor International, in 2009 Ku-
wait’s outgoing tourist expenditure came to nearly $4.3 bil-
lion, but incoming tourists spent only about $400 million.
Kuwait City’s Hotel
Missoni, a collaboration
between the Italian fashion house
and Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel
Group, opened in March. From top: the
sundeck and pool, sporting signature
Missoni stripes; a Missoni Maggiore
suite; the Cucina restaurant.
American military personnel are more frequent visitors.
There’s no Taj Mahal, Great Pyramid or Petra in Kuwait, no renowned landmarks beckoning across the ages to
potential sightseers. Hence, attention from European and
North American tour operators and travel agents has been
spotty at best.
Even firms that have offered, or will soon include, Kuwait on Middle East itineraries acknowledge its charms are
“You see antiquity but not in the volume or grandness
of a place like Egypt or Jordan,” said Harry Davis, a travel
director at Travcoa in El Segundo, Calif. “And Kuwait ad-
mittedly doesn’t have the intensity of Dubai or the natural
beauty of Oman.” That said, Davis added, most Americans
“of a certain age” have a familiarity with and interest in Ku-
wait due to the Iraqi invasion of 1990 and the first
Indifference at the top
Nor does the Kuwait government show much interest
in developing an inbound tourism industry, say sources.
Unlike Dubai or Oman, the country has no tourism ministry or board to speak of; the sector is
handled by a small division of the Ministry of
Commerce and Industry. Any and all promotional activity to date, such as stands at international tourism fairs like ITB in Berlin and World
Travel Market in London, has been undertaken
by a private-sector triumvirate: the Kuwait Hotel Owners Association, national carrier Kuwait
Airways and operator Kuwait Tourism Services.
Private-sector efforts to promote the country
as a destination have long met with government
indifference, according to Abdul Ilah Marafie,
CEO of the Marafie Group of companies and
owner of one of Kuwait’s oldest luxury resorts,
the Radisson Blu Hotel, Kuwait.
“In the government, no one listens to us or gives
us feedback,” the outspoken Marafie complained.
“For 25 years, we’ve been fighting for recognition,
[but] they’re not supporting us. We just want the
government to recognize us as an industry.”
Those pleas fall on deaf government ears despite
the fact that, according to Marafie’s estimates, private in-
vestment in Kuwait’s hospitality infrastructure now totals
about $3.3 billion, compared with less than $2 billion in
manufacturing, a market sector long deemed worthy of its
“They have their own agendas,” Marafie said of Kuwait
officials with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“All the other Gulf states — I think the last was Qatar
five years ago — have established [hospitality] regulatory
bodies, but we in Kuwait are still working for and support-
ing ourselves,” he said. “We want to promote Kuwait and do
whatever we can to give [the outside world] a better view
of the country.”
(Kuwaiti government officials were unavailable
for comment for this article. However, according
to published reports, Majda Behbehani, director
of marketing and foreign relations in the tour-
ism sector of the Ministry of Commerce and
Industry, has stated that Kuwait is, in fact, aim-
ing to attract 1 million visitors per year within a
Pascal Gadet, general manager of the Hotel Missoni and a Kuwait resident for seven years, agreed that the
drive to bring Kuwait up to speed in Gulf-area tourism is a
largely private-sector effort, advanced by far-sighted local
“I think Kuwaitis have come to realize that a more well-rounded economy is going to bring more of a secure future
See KUWAIT on Page 20
is In the Hot
Seat, Page 4.
OCTOBER 17, 2011