While lockdowns are extended and restrictions on global travel continue on the back of the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism sector in Egypt and worldwide is emerging as among the hardest-hit industries.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) expects that international tourist arrivals will be down by 20 to 30 per cent in 2020 when compared with 2019 figures.
However, UNWTO pointed out in a press release that these numbers are based on the latest developments as the international community faces up to an unprecedented social and economic challenge and should be interpreted with caution in view of the extreme uncertainty of the current crisis.
According to UNWTO, an expected fall of between 20 to 30 per cent could translate into a decline in international tourism receipts of between $300 and $450 billion, almost one third of the $1.5 trillion generated in 2019.
Taking into account past market trends, this would mean that between five and seven years’ worth of growth will be lost to Covid-19. Putting this into context, UNWTO notes that in 2009, on the back of the global economic crisis, international tourist arrivals declined by four per cent, while the SARS outbreak led to a decline of just 0.4 per cent in 2003.
In recent years, Egypt has shown signs of recovery in its tourism industry, though it is still far from the 14.7 million visitors recorded in 2010. Egypt welcomed 13.1 million arrivals in 2019, and revenues from the sector grew to $13.3 billion, compared to $11.6 billion in 2018, according to the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE).
Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled El-Enany told Al-Ahram Weekly that the number of tourists who visited Egypt in January and February this year was the highest in the history of tourism in Egypt. This indicated that 2020 would have been very promising for the country’s tourism industry, he said.
But the sector in Egypt is now losing around $1 billion monthly as the impacts of the crisis over the Covid-19 virus continue to affect the market. “However, the health and well-being of Egyptians and tourists are the government’s first and utmost priority,” he said.
To support tourism and mitigate the economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on the tourism sector, particularly on employment, the government has launched a set of measures.
According to a presidential decree, hotels and tourist establishments will be exempt from paying real-estate taxes for six months, as well as postponing the payment of their dues for three months without fines or arrears.
The president also asked the CBE to look into providing the country’s banks with financing for tourist and hotel establishments at low interest rates in order to finance their operations with a view to retaining and paying the salaries of employees.
The decree recommended that work get underway to upgrade the efficiency of tourist facilities in these establishments, in order that they will be fully prepared to receive and host visitors from Egypt and abroad as soon as the coronavirus crisis recedes.
The decree also dictated that temporary labourers will receive a monthly grant of LE500 for three months in compensation for lost income due to the Covid-19 crisis. The deadline to file taxes has also been extended for three months until 30 June.
Ahmed Al-Wassif, head of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, said in a statement that the presidential decree showed the great care the government was bestowing on the tourism industry and its employees and investors, describing the decree as “light at the end of a dark tunnel”.
He pointed out that the problems the industry was facing were unique, as the Covid-19 pandemic was a global crisis that had led to the halt of inbound tourism from all countries around the world. He added that the sector was committed to the well-being of its employees.
However, Gamal Al-Shaer, head of the Chamber of Tourism Establishments, said that it could be difficult for tourism companies to take out loans at eight per cent interest rates to pay the salaries of their employees, as they were facing cash-flow problems.
“This has to be discussed with the Central Bank,” he said.
OTHER MEASURES: These are not the only measures taken by the government to support the tourism industry.
The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has launched an initiative, in collaboration with its partners from scientific and archaeological institutes, enabling a series of virtual and guided video tours of museums and archaeological sites around Egypt.
The initiative comes within the framework of the ministry’s efforts to enable people worldwide to explore and enjoy the ancient Egyptian civilisation during their home confinement, within the precautionary measures taken to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
The tours are available on the ministry’s website as well as on social-media networks under the title “Experience Egypt from Home. Stay Home. Stay Safe.”
Tours have been posted on the tomb of an 18th-Dynasty nobleman called Menna on Luxor’s West Bank, the unique rock-cut shrine of king Khufu’s granddaughter Meresankh with its beautifully painted wall paintings, the distinguished Red Monastery in Sohag, the mosque-madrassa and Khanqa of Sultan Al-Zaher Barqouq in Al-Muizz Li-Din Allah Street in Islamic Cairo, and the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo.
On schedule are tours of the Catacombs of Kom Al-Shoqafa in Alexandria, the Deir Al-Medina Tombs in Luxor, the Amanda Temple on Lake Nasser, the Suez Museum, and St Anthony’s Monastery.
In addition, a group of videos showcasing maritime and leisure tourism in Egypt, such as windsurfing, diving, snorkelling and sand-boarding, are being posted. Virtual guided tours of the masterpieces on display at the Egyptian Museum will also be on show.
As part of the precautionary measures being taken by the government to confront the spread of the new coronavirus after the suspension of flights and inbound tourism, the Egypt Hotels Association, in coordination with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, is sterilising hotels and resorts all over the country under the supervision of the Ministry of Health and Population.
Maged Fawzi, head of the association, explained that it has disinfected and sanitised all the hotels in the governorates of the Red Sea, South Sinai, Luxor and Aswan and Cairo and Giza.
The hotels use sterilisation materials approved by the Ministry of Health and Population, and the process is carried out by trained teams according to international standards approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO). They are sterilising all surfaces in contact with tourists, guests and hotel visitors, such as public areas, corridors, guest rooms, elevators, stairs, doors, and handle rails on a daily basis.
Fawzi said that the German company TUV-Nord was inspecting the hotels to ensure that the sterilisation procedures were carried out to international standards, while the Preverisk Company would ensure that the sanitation steps were efficient.
It will also develop procedures and checklists for sanitation in hotels and take swab tests from selected areas such as guest rooms, public areas, restaurants and bars, and recreational facilities and train employees through Viral Infection Simulation in hotels.
Programmes to raise the awareness of hotel employees to protect themselves from the virus are also provided.
Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that although all museums and archaeological sites were closed to visitors, they were being sanitised, especially areas in potentially direct contact with visitors.
Services and tourist facilities management in sites will be developed, and among the sites that have been disinfected are the Giza Plateau, the Egyptian Museum, and the Citadel.
“We are deploying great efforts to sanitise and disinfect all tourist destinations, hotels, resorts, restaurants, museums and archaeological sites, to be ready to receive and welcome Egyptian and foreign visitors as soon as the recovery of tourism takes place worldwide,” El-Enany said.
He said that the period of suspension was a good opportunity to develop the tourism and antiquities sector as well as to take all necessary precautionary measures to ensure the safety and health of employees.
El-Enany said that the ministry had activated a hotline to receive the opinions and inquiries of tourism sector employees. It will take the caller’s data and complaint or inquiry and present them to the relevant department. An investigation will then be carried out to find an appropriate solution, with customer service reaching out to the complainant as follow-up, he said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly