Recently released figures from the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) show a revival in tourism revenues during the 2018-19 fiscal year to reach $12.6 billion, 29 per cent higher than the receipts realised during the previous fiscal year.
Tourist arrivals have increased by 30 per cent so far into the year as compared to the same period in 2018, according to statements by Hossam Al-Shaer, head of the Egyptian Travel Agencies Association.
Boasting of the recovery of the sector, Minister of Tourism Rania Al-Mashat said it had been the fruit of hard labour and continuous effort by workers and partners in the tourism sector at home and overseas to meet the goals set out in the reform programme to develop the sector.
The programme was launched in November 2018 in the framework of policies to achieve sustainable tourism development and raise the competitiveness of the sector and stay abreast of international trends.
The larger goal is “to employ at least one member of every Egyptian family in the tourism sector and related activities”. The programme is published on the ministry’s website in Arabic and English, and the first follow-up report was issued in September. This meant that everyone could monitor the measures being taken, Al-Mashat said.
Several international reports on tourism, counting for 15 per cent of Egypt’s GDP, have also noted efforts to revive the sector. Egypt had the fourth-largest growth rate in terms of tourism performance, according to the 2019 World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report published in September.
It also jumped from 60th to fifth place in tourism marketing and promotion strategies, and came top in Africa in a report published by the US-based Bloom Consulting.
The efforts include improving the skills of the sector’s workforce through training 9,600 people by the end of December this year. So far, 7,093 people have been trained in health and food safety, processing and preparing food, food and beverages, first aid, back office and front office duties and cooking.
Some 1,500 owners of animals and horse-drawn buggies have been trained in taking care of their animals properly.
The ministry also participated in the 26th Ukraine International Travel Market (UITM) in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in early September, one of the biggest tourism events in the region.
Ukraine is one of the most important tourism markets for Egypt and is one of the top 10 exporters of tourism to the country, coming second after Germany.
The Ukrainian market became even more important after the launch of direct flights between Kiev and Cairo in April 2018, currently standing at four flights a week on Ukraine International Airlines.
After the Kiev event began, the hashtag #Egyptuitm2019 was launched for the occasion so visitors could post their photographs and comments on Facebook and Instagram.
Visitors also participated in competitions and won souvenir prizes, and the Egyptian booth used technology such as holograms and interactive screens displaying pictures and information about Egypt’s tourist sites in several languages, as well as 3D glasses using virtual reality software to visit places like the Red Sea, the Pyramids, Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada to give visitors a taste of touring Egypt.
There were also screens promoting individual tourism destinations such as Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada and Luxor.
On the sidelines of the event, meetings were held with top tourism agents in Ukraine to discuss preparations for the next season, targeting high-end travelers and inviting Ukrainian celebrities and travel bloggers to visit Egypt.
Egypt’s tourism sector has also weathered the recent bankruptcy of British operator Thomas Cook.
“The bankruptcy that happened in the British market not only affects Egypt but other countries as well. But we have invested in the past few years to diversify the markets where tourists come from. British tourists are not the main visitors to Egypt anymore,” Al-Mashat told the US media service Bloomberg.
Hotels in Egypt facilitated matters for guests hit by the Thomas Cook bankruptcy and said they would collect money from insurance companies.
Maged Fawzi, chairman of the Egyptian Chamber of Tourist Establishments (ECTE), said after an emergency meeting that all hotels that had Thomas Cook clients in Egypt would need to hold onto invoices in order to be reimbursed by insurance companies.
Sebastian Ebel, CEO of TUI Deutschland for the Middle East and North Africa, a tourism company, said during a meeting with Al-Mashat that TUI was trying to procure Thomas Cook reservations in various tourism markets, including Egypt.
Ebel said he hoped for closer cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and increased business for his company, especially in investments and increasing tourism coming to Egypt.
He said tourists today pick activities they want at tourism destinations even before choosing hotels or flights. Accordingly, the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum next year would be a huge attraction for many tourists, he said, adding that TUI could promote tourist destinations in Egypt on its various platforms.
Akram Allam, an adviser to the ministry, suggested that the Thomas Cook bankruptcy be offset by alternative plans in order not to lose a large portion of the market.
This should be done by Egyptian tourism-agency owners coming together and establishing a larger agency in London with special facilities to retain the largest possible number of British and European tourists, he said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.