Egypt is dreaming of going back to its glory days of tourism but the political and economic situation in the country is still riddled with uncertainties and recent events have not helped reinforce confidence for a quick recovery in the tourist inflow.
Just when conditions seemed to be settling, Egypt had to face football riots in Port Said and consequent deadly protests in Cairo plus tourist kidnappings.
Fakhry Abdel-Nour, Egypt’s tourism minister, says nearly 10 million tourists visited Egypt in 2011, a year that marked a revolution and witnessed highs and lows in unrest. His ministry released figures showing there were 9.8 million foreign visitors in 2011, down 33 per cent compared with 2010. Tourism is one of the main props of the Egyptian economy, accounting for 11.3 per cent of annual GDP. Revenues from the sector declined from $12.5 billion in 2010 to $8.8 billion. The country’s foreign reserves fell by over 50 per cent last year to $16 billion and Cairo has requested $3.2 billion from the International Monetary Fund to boost its reserves and maintain currency stability. The oil-rich Gulf states are withholding aid until the political situation clears. With foreign investment drying up, Egypt’s hope is tourism and, understandably, it is making all-out efforts to communicate that the overall situation is better than it is made out to be in the international press.
Egypt boasts historical and natural sites that are the world’s envy. Visitors have been drawn to its ancient pyramids, the Nile River, Biblical sites and Red Sea resorts. Many of the top tourist spots are well outside Cairo, the heart of the protest movement. In fact, some 75 per cent of the tourists who visited in 2011 went to the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada and Marsa Alam. At the height of the protest in January and February, air charters were cancelled, although these resorts were far from the trouble spots. The Red Sea destinations are no ordinary locations. Much investment has gone into them to make them idyllic and world-class. The Egyptian government is confident these resorts will see greater tourist arrivals this year and inspire confidence in Egypt as a tourism destination in general. Egypt will have a president within months and expectations are that this development will infuse stability both politically and economically. By the end of 2012, it expects between 12 and 13 million tourists and a tourism contribution of around $11 billion to the exchequer.
The tourism ministry’s strategy is to draw in visitors from diverse nations including China, India and Brazil. As most of these tourists would combine Egypt, Greece and Turkey in their itinerary, Cairo aims to launch joint marketing programmes with Greece and Turkey.
BY SALVADOR ALMEIDA
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