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Who wants to visit the Middle East? Twice as many people as in 2000.

Amid greater political stability and increased efforts to attract visitors, Middle East tourism is outstripping the markets in Asia and Europe.

A view of a new car tunnel at the Kfar Souseh roundabout in Damascus, Syria, on Sept. 7. Syria is one country that is seeking both greater tourism revenues and the improved profile tourism provides.

Khaled Al-Hariri/Reuters

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When it comes to the Middle East, more than a few people might be surprised to learn of the region's latest achievement: stature as the fastest-growing tourism destination in the world.

Greater political stability and stepped-up efforts to attract visitors are at the root of the trend – one that not only tends to shore up regional stability and increase countries' revenues, analysts say, but can also give countries marred by allegations of corruption, human rights abuses, and autocracy a better image on the international stage.

“Tourism is an important new source of income for these countries and also provides jobs for local people,” says David Wilmsen, a professor at the American University of Beirut and longtime resident in the region. “But more important is the effect tourists can have on image improvement – something the Middle East desperately needs.”

So far this year, tourist arrivals to the region are up by 20 percent over last year – far greater than Europe's 2 percent increase and Asia's 6 percent growth, according to figures from UNWTO, the United Nations' World Tourism Organization. This is true despite the fact that UNWTO excludes the larger markets of Israel and Turkey from the region. (Editor's note: The original version misstated the region's growth rate in comparison to Europe and Asia.)


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