From the fanoos lights lining the corridors of London’s Excel conference centre to the Moorish arches at the entrance, Morocco’s presence at the World Travel Market was overwhelming. And it was no surprise. In the first seven months of 2023, the country welcomed 8.6 million visitors and has plans to double that number by 2030. Since the last edition of the fair took place in 2022, there has also been an increase in the number of other African exhibitors and representatives from the Middle East.
After speaking to tourism ministers and conference attendees, I could clearly see why. While many popular European travel destinations introduced unwelcoming tourism taxes and strict visitor caps this year, countries such as Sri Lanka, Morocco and Saudi Arabia invested in infrastructure projects, removed visa requirements and incentivised duty-free shopping. Following its bailout by the International Monetary Fund, Sri Lanka turned its attention to debt restructuring. “We are increasing investment in the aviation sector, building a new airport terminal and piloting a visa-free travel programme,” said Sri Lanka’s tourism minister, Harin Fernando.
Countries in Africa and the Middle East are also targeting new tourist markets. Morocco, for example, has begun to look outside of Europe in an effort to boost visitor numbers. “We have opened delegations in nations such as South Korea, Australia and India,” said Morocco’s tourism minister, Fatim-Zahra Ammor. The future of the industry has never looked less European – unless you count the fact that so many industry folks flew here for a rainy day in an airless trade hall. If tourism can recover in 2024, it will be thanks to new journeys to lesser-known destinations. What remains to be seen is how many people buy the idea that Riyadh is the new Rome.
Tom Webb is Monocle’s deputy head of radio. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.
Against a backdrop of heightened global tensions, Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds on. But beyond the usual tactics of an invading army, there are suspicions that less conventional methods are also being employed. For example, Russian disinformation campaigns seem to be using poetry to sow discord. Poems falsely attributed to one of Ukraine’s most revered 19th-century writers, Taras Shevchenko, have been circulating online. The verses juxtapose the Ukrainian government’s conscription of the poor in wartime with the excesses of the ruling classes. “Russia isn’t just spreading fake news,” Volodymyr Yermolenko, president of Pen Ukraine and host of the Explaining Ukraine podcast, tells The Monocle Minute. “Russia’s war is as much in the hearts and minds of Ukrainians as it is on the battlefield,” he says. “Shevchenko is one of the founding fathers of the Ukrainian nation and it is deeply damaging for his work to be distorted.”
For more on Russia’s disinformation campaign, tune in to Wednesday's edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio.
Southeast Asia’s food-delivery services surged in popularity at the height of the coronavirus pandemic but are now struggling to compete as diners ditch their loungewear and return to restaurants. Though the sector grew by 183 per cent in 2020, its growth slumped to just 5 per cent from 2021 to 2022. The region’s three largest markets – Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand – all recorded declines. And there’s no shortage of competition. Grab, Southeast Asia’s answer to Uber Eats, dominates the market but Berlin-based Foodpanda and Indonesia’s Gojek also hold significant shares.
All of this is good news for the traditional hospitality sector, particularly in Singapore, where eating out is a daily activity for many people. In 2023 total food and beverage sales in the city-state were up nearly 7 per cent compared to 2022. While global business is still recovering from the upheaval of the pandemic, our social lives seem to be back in robust health.
London’s Soul Jazz Books has published a new edition of music writer and photographer Beth Lesser’s Dancehall: The Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture. Through hundreds of pictures, Lesser highlights the cultural importance of dancehall music, which was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in the 1950s and continues to influence performers, artists and fashion brands.
Aimé Leon Dore, Farah and Levi’s Vintage Clothing have all debuted collections inspired by both the music and Lesser’s photography. Nigerian-born designer Duro Olowu, known for his artistic patterns and artisanal textiles, has written the book’s introduction. “This is a must-have for music lovers, photography enthusiasts and anyone interested in cultural history and identity,” writes Olowu. “A powerful reminder of the transformative power of music and art in shaping individual and collective identities.”
Chinese political cartoonist and artist Badiucao skewers Beijing through his perceptive work, which ranges from images of Xi Jinping as Winnie the Pooh to a portrait of Carrie Lam in which the Hong Kong former chief executive’s face seems to merge with the Chinese president’s. He now lives in self-imposed exile in Melbourne, where he continues to explore themes such as censorship and human rights abuses. He tells Monocle about what drove him to leave China and pursue his career as an artist.
Tell us about a moment that changed your life.
It happened totally by accident. When I was a law student in China, my friends and I were pirating films and we came across what we thought would be a Taiwanese romance movie. After downloading it we realised that it was a documentary about the Tiananmen Square massacre. No one at the time was talking about it but, after watching the film, we couldn’t deny what happened. But I want to emphasise that I don’t really believe that a person can be changed overnight after seeing one thing or finding out about one incident.
That moment eventually led to you leaving China and resettling in Australia to focus on art. Could you tell us about that decision?
It wasn’t easy to leave the motherland and dive into a new culture but I had a clear mission to fulfil my potential. The most fundamental thing for an artist is to be truthful to yourself. Art is a form of language for expressing yourself as a member of society and as a human being. Your experiences and understanding of the past – of the place where you were born, the country that you live in – become your ultimate sources of inspiration.
You explore themes around China’s geopolitics. How do you represent those issues in your art?
Though I lived for more than 20 years in China, I left the country and it’s a challenge to connect with what is happening and with other artists there. But I’m able to do so now via social media. For example, in 2019, I built a relationship with protesters in Hong Kong and represented their voices and pain through my art. I then felt proud to see people holding my work at the protests.
For our full interview with Badiucao, tune in to our latest episode of ‘The Big Interview’ on Monocle Radio.
We talk to Charlene Prempeh about diversity in design and hear from fashion label Fforme. Plus: a chat with designer Martin Brudnizki about his new retail outpost for And Objects.