Terrorist attacks and national challenges brought Egypt’s tourism almost to a halt over the past nine years, but after the Ministry of Tourism embarked on a five-pronged plan to restructure the sector comprising institutional and legislative reform, upgrading infrastructure, increasing investment, and updating promotion mechanisms, the industry has been bouncing back.
“It’s been a positive year for the tourism sector. One of the best developments was setting new hotel standards, and the Chamber of Hotel Establishments should now implement what it has promised regarding hygiene and food standards to avoid any incidents resulting from problems with non-fresh food,” said Sameh Saad, CEO of Misr Travel, a travel agency.
Another positive note in 2019 was the return of British tourists to Sharm El-Sheikh, Saad said, adding that these were often high-spending visitors.
In October, the UK announced the resumption of flights to Sharm El-Sheikh after a four-year hiatus. The UK banned such flights following the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Sinai at the end of 2015, and its decision to resume them has been long awaited by the tourism sector due to the importance of British tourists.
It is expected that the number of UK travellers will now increase in Sharm El-Sheikh, which has suffered from the dwindling numbers of British and Russian tourists, two of the Sinai resort’s most important markets.
During the first week of December, the British Independent newspaper reported that arrivals in Cairo had risen by 31.1 per cent in 2019, while the Red Sea resort of Hurghada had welcomed 46.8 per cent more travellers last year than the year before, making it the world’s fastest-growing destination.
Hossam Al-Shaer, head of the Chamber of Tourism Companies, expects 2020 to see more tourists coming to Egypt, especially from the UK when direct flights to Sharm El-Sheikh resume in February.
He said tourists from the Russian market were also likely to increase in the coming year since “there is no reason Russia will not resume its flights. The opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in 2020 will draw in more tourists as well.”
To diversify tourism promotion, the ministry of tourism partnered with the US network CNN in May to create new material re-introducing Egypt’s tourist attractions to the world.
In September, Minister of Tourism Rania Al-Mashat announced new standards to classify Egypt’s hotels in line with international standards.
The country’s hotels have not been re-classified for 14 years, and re-classification increases hotel competitiveness, service quality, and room prices, while the new standards that have been introduced include service and environmental and health improvements.
The new standards announced in September will be applied to hotels, Nile cruises, ecolodges, apartment hotels, boutique and floating hotels, resorts, heritage hotels and camps. The latter will see the application of a set of additional standards, such as Safari camp standards, environmental and green hotel standards, and the use of clean energy technologies.
The Ministry of Tourism also announced in September that it had contracted international marketing companies to promote tourism in Egypt. The companies include Beautiful Destination, CNN, the Chinese Ctrip company, the Discovery Foundation, Expedia, and the Isobar agency, and they will project a new image of Egypt through the use of modern marketing techniques, creating content suitable for each market, helping to open new markets, and making promotional campaigns more effective in targeted markets.
Egypt achieved the fourth-highest growth rate in global performance in the travel and tourism competitiveness index, according to the report of the World Economic Forum Competitiveness in Travel and Tourism Report for 2019 that was published in September. Egypt’s tourism sector progressed nine spots to rank 65th internationally, and it advanced from the 60th position to fifth place in its tourism promotion and marketing strategy.
Egypt is gearing up for a strong comeback in international tourism in 2020, the report cited Abercrombie & Kent, a leading international tourism company, as saying. Travellers to Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada are expected particularly to increase, and some 11 million tourists visited Egypt last year, according to figures cited in the report.
The London-based Euromonitor International selected Hurghada for its list of the 100 most-visited cities in the world in 2018, ranking the Red Sea resort in 82nd position. It said that with the improvement of the city’s infrastructure, including the renewal of Terminal 2 at Hurghada International Airport and investment in the hotels sector, the city is expected to witness 41 per cent growth in 2019, raising its ranking even further.
Euromonitor pointed out that Hurghada could be among the 50 most-visited cities in the world if political stability and security are assured and the government continues its promotional campaigns for tourism development.
Cairo came in at 42nd position in the Euromonitor list, up five places on the year before. Visitors to the capital increased by 18.3 per cent year-on-year to reach 6.8 million in 2019, up from 5.8 million in 2018.
In August, the US Time magazine chose the Red Sea Mountain Trail near Hurghada as one of the best places to visit in 2019. Last month, the US National Geographic magazine picked Abu Simbel as one of the 25 favourite tourist destinations to visit next year.
In November, the World Travel and Tourism Council selected Egypt as among 90 internationally successful experiences in a report issued in cooperation with the Global Rescue company on the readiness to protect people and tourist destinations in crisis situations. The report looked at the experiences of countries and the private sector in responding to and facing crises as well as recommendations on how best to manage them.
Egypt’s tourism revenues increased in the 2018-19 fiscal year to $12.5 billion, the highest in the sector since the 25 January Revolution and up from $9.8 billion in 2017-18, a growth rate of 28.2 per cent.
Tourism revenues in the first nine months of 2019 recorded $9.3 billion, while revenues in 2016-17 registered $7.2 billion. The ministry of tourism targets increasing the number of tourists visiting Egypt to 12 million in 2019-20.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly. under the title Egypt's tourism back on track