Opinion and Editorial

The Egyptian tourism

Dr Ahmed Mokhtar (Cairo Insights)
Filed on November 10, 2014

Tourism is limping back to normalcy with renewed vigour

AFTER MORE than three years, during which some Egyptian cities have turned into what looks like ghost houses where lights were shut off and shops were closed, tourism in Egypt is currently witnessing better prospects that gives hope to millions who work in that vital sector.

In 2010, Egypt ranked 18 in the list of 20 most visited countries by international tourist arrivals, with over 14 million tourists and revenues amounting to more than $13 million, representing 11.3 per cent of Egypt’s GDP. About 12.5 per cent of Egyptian labour force in 2010 worked in the tourism sector. Egyptians sensed the dangerous economic situation following the 25th of January revolution by looking at the windows of hotels overlooking the river Nile. They were dark and quiet, and even the floating hotels, estimated at 250, were all at anchor after they used to be on non-stop Nile cruise trips from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan and fully booked all the time.

Luxor, Aswan and Qena governorates are heavily dependent on tourism as a source of income, and they were hit hard by the economic recession that left occupancy rates at one per cent in almost all of their hotels. The rate was slightly higher in Sharm El Sheikh and Hurgada but still far away from normal, standing at 15 per cent, despite being remote from unrest in Cairo that its hotels had completely closed their doors.

According to official reports, Egypt’s tourism was at a standstill after the 25th of January revolution in 2011, as a result of the state of lawlessness that swept the country. By losing the main source of foreign currency income, the Egyptian economy began falling back, and international reserves went down from $40 billion to $14 billion, barely enough to finance imports of basic food commodities for only three months.

It was not strange during the last three years to find thousands of Egyptians who used to work in the tourism sector, standing in long queues in search for a job opportunity, especially that more than 40 industries depend on tourism, and they were severely affected, consequently, by the unrest. After the 30th of June revolution in 2013, Egypt started taking serious steps to get the tourism sector out of the resuscitation room after revenues went down to a shocking $5.6 billion, aiming at attracting 12 million tourists by the end of this year.

The situation was very critical after several European countries, along with the United States of America, issued a travel ban on Egypt. This made Egyptian officials look for the Gulf States that their citizens responded superbly by carrying out campaigns on social media websites to encourage traveling to Egypt.

Shortly after that, many countries lifted their travel ban on Egypt’s resorts and cities, which made the year 2014 commence with hopes of a better economic situation that coincided with improved security in Egypt, and especially in South Sinai. Latest official figures of the tourism sector say that occupancy rates of Cairo hotels reached over 80 per cent, all of which are Arabs and foreigners. In Sharm El Sheikh, 90 per cent of the hotels’ rooms are occupied, with an average rate of 82 per cent in all of South Sinai hotels.

The figures also show a significant increase in the number of tourists coming to Egypt from Gulf Cooperation Council states, as the number has went up by 35 per cent from the UAE, 6.3 per cent from KSA and 10.8 per cent from Kuwait compared to the same period of last year. Tourist nights spent by Arabs have also risen to reach 11.6 compared to 9.5 nights spent by tourists in general.

The slight recovery of Egypt’s tourism is something that cannot be ignored. However, we must note that the increase in number of tourists is mainly limited to coastal tourism, and that cultural tourism is still suffering. The latter was the reason Egypt hosted the conference of the German travel agencies in Luxor, and several other events are underway, such as celebrating next month the 110th anniversary of Queen Nefertary tomb discovery, as well as a performance of Aida Opera at the Giza Pyramids.

While approaching Christmas holidays, Egyptians hope that the year 2014 will end peacefully, and will be an indication of a blossoming tourism sector once again.

Dr Ahmed Mokhtar is the deputy editor in chief of Al Ahram Al Masaai

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