EXCLUSIVE TO THE MIDDLE EAST ONLINE . . . Egypt Tourism: counting the cost of conflict

egyptBy Rhona Wells at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai

Egypt expects to attract 8.6 million tourists this year, down from 9.3 million in 2015, because of “the current situation”,  a spokesman for the country’s Ministry of Tourism revealed. “We might go to an estimate of  9 million tourists if things get better,” he added. “But, for the moment, we are expecting 8.6 million.

Home to many of the Middle East’s most impressive ancient monuments and a “must see” destination for travellers from around the globe, the Egyptian economy is heavily reliant on its tourist receipts. The recent civil unrest and occasional outbursts of violence, some of which have directly targeted tourist areas, have had a serious impact on visitors numbers and, consequently, tourist revenue into the Egyptian government’s coffers. The country  welcomed 9.8 million tourists in 2014.

After the Russian plane crash over the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015, Moscow halted all civilian flights to Egypt, one of the most popular winter sun destinations for Russians. Egypt’s new tourism minister,Yehia Rashed, plans to review his Ministry’s charter incentive programme when it expires in November, with the aim of help attract more foreign visitors.

Talks are underway with EgyptAir to start direct flights to tourism destinations  overseas and there will also be improvements and an upgrade of services at 11 overseas tourist offices. However, however inviting the inducements to visit, tourist numbers will only start to increase appreciably when there is peace and security on the streets. “There is no question that Egypt has attractions and qualities to offer that most countries can only dream of,” a European tourist operator told The Middle East Online. “However,” she added, “it doesn’t matter how fantastic and financially reasonable a destination is, nobody wants to go on holiday to a place where the political climate might be volatile.”

Despite the fall in tourist numbers, some hoteliers are gradually stepping into the market. Swiss-Belhotel International expects to manage a 200-room, four-star property in Alexandria in 2018. The Swiss-Belhotel Marseilia will also have 500 residential units.

“We are also talking to developers about facilities in Cairo and for another hotel on the north coast,” said Gavin Faull, Swiss-Belhotel International’s chairman and president. “For Egypt, we are confident that the tourism situation will improve; the hotels we are signing will only open by 2018, so the market will be different than what it is today.”

During the first quarter of 2016, Egypt received 1.2 million tourists, a 46% drop from the same period last year. Those visitors spent $500 million during their stay in Egypt, down 65% from the $1.5 billion generated during the same period last year.

With fewer tourists, spending less, one positive for Egypt’s beleaguered tourism sector is a rise in regional visitors, especially high-spending tourists from the GCC. The country received 180,000 tourists from the Mena region, an increase of 45%.

Among these, 10,000 tourists visited from the UAE, 10,800 from Saudi Arabia and 33,000 from Kuwait.

The highest average spenders among Gulf visitors were those from Kuwait, who spent an average of $170 a night, followed by $140 a night for UAE visitors and $133 a night from Saudi visitors.


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