This article was originally posted in February 2012
Tourism is a lifeline for so many countries, but economic crisis, civil unrest or natural disasters can suddenly pull the plug on visitor numbers. And this can be a great time to experience these countries: often many areas are still safe, locals will usually be delighted to see you, tourist sites will be quieter and prices will come right down. Following World Bank adjusters, suitcase in hand, doesn’t make you a vulture – it makes you a smart traveller.
While the bargain-basement tier of travel often sees little change (hostel beds won’t drastically drop in price), the mid-range and up can see dramatic price cuts. So think of downturn tourism as a chance to give yourself an upgrade, as well as to help out countries that could use a little of your money in hard times. These are a handful of countries that, thanks to various forms of instability, have seen their tourism industries severely disrupted – which means savings for you.
Egypt’s economic problems are a direct result of greater political instability. Following January 2011’s massive uprising and continued unrest, travellers have cancelled their trips in droves. The protests, however, are intermittent and predominantly centered on one area in Cairo, leaving the rest of the city (and country) ready and waiting. The interim government may also adjust the exchange rate again soon, further boosting savings. Look especially for deals on Nile cruises, and revel in sharing the Pyramids of Giza with only a handful of tourists for company.
Poor Greece, the pariah of Europe. Because it’s in the Eurozone (as everyone’s acutely aware), prices on standard goods can’t drop – your bottle of Mythos beer still cost a few euros, and ferry fares remain the same. But as tourism has fallen off dramatically during this uncertain period, hotels are desperately courting business. A recent price-check of hotels in Athens showed €120 hotels going for €40 a night. Book an early summer beach holiday now, and you may lock in a bargain – and put a hotelier’s mind at ease while you’re at it.
Largely due to the government’s mismanagement of the economy, Hungary’s currency, the forint, has plummeted (in July 2008 one US dollar bought 145 forints; in January 2012 it was 245). Hungary’s national airline, Malev, may have just collapsed, but there are plenty of budget carriers that will get you there for a song. And several of downtown Budapest’s top-tier hotels have a wide range of promotions and packages on offer too, some offering discounts of up to 70%.
Last year’s torrent of bad news about Mexico – drug-war deaths, “about to be a failed state” quips – tarred the entire country with the same brush. Even so, the violence is confined to a few states in the 2-million-sqare-kilometre country and the peso has been steadily weakening (in July 2011 one US dollar bought 11.6 Mexican Pesos; in January 2012 it was 13.9). Investigate the particularly placid Yucatán Peninsula, a world away from the northern-border skirmishes. In Mérida, scores of gorgeous colonial B&Bs keep rates competitive and on the beaches many hotels are running perpetual “specials” to lure back skittish tourists.
No stranger to disruption, having witnessed political protests from 2008 until 2010, in 2011 Thailand was hit by the worst flooding the country has faced in half a century, affecting over 13 million people. Inevitably tourists have stayed away while the clear-up takes place, and hotel occupancy rates have fallen sharply, particularly in Bangkok. Thai Airways and Thai hotel chains are using promotions to lure bargain-hunters back, so now’s a great time to go.