After months of lockdown as part of measures to halt the spread of the Covid-19, Egypt’s coastal resorts are ready to reopen to international tourism.
Starting next week, airports and the Red Sea, South Sinai, and Matrouh beach resorts are to open to international travellers in the hope of salvaging this year’s tourism season and easing an anticipated recession caused by the lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt’s most popular holiday destinations on the Red Sea, are now ready to welcome international travellers and holidaymakers, who flock to their scores of luxury hotels to enjoy the sunny weather, endless beaches, and world-class diving, surfing, safaris and other activities that have made both resorts favourite vacation spots.
To ensure the safe return of inbound tourism, the government has introduced hygiene safety regulations in compliance with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Hygiene safety certificates are pre-requisites for all hospitality establishments, tourism activities, archaeological sites and museums to resume their operations and receive visitors.
In cooperation with the relevant Tourism Chambers and international consulting firms specialising in health and safety, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities is conducting regular inspections of certified hospitality establishments to ensure the efficient implementation of the regulations.
Starting in July, Egypt will receive inbound tourism at certified hotels and resorts located in the coastal governorates of the Red Sea, South Sinai and Matrouh, with maximum occupancy rates of 50 per cent.
“These three governorates have had excellent epidemiological results, in addition to having fully-equipped public and private hospitals,” Khaled El-Enany, the minister of tourism and antiquities, told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said that trips overland between these destinations and others in the Nile Valley were still banned until further announcement. Other tourist destinations such as in Luxor, Aswan, and Cairo will be reopened gradually.
To inspect the implementation of the regulations in the costal beach resorts that will be reopened to tourists starting in July, the ministers of tourism and antiquities and civil aviation embarked on a trip to Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh this week.
“Before resuming inbound tourism to Egypt, strict preventive measures are being taken from the beginning of people’s trips in their source country until their departure from Egypt,” El-Enany told the Weekly.
He said that before travelling to Egypt and prior to receiving an airline boarding pass, all passengers would need to fill in a traveller’s declaration including a questionnaire on information on trips undertaken in the 14 days before coming to Egypt and a confirmation that passengers have shown any symptoms of Covid-19 or knowingly been in touch with coronavirus patients.
He said that all travellers would need to have international medical insurance covering their stay in Egypt. The declaration forms are available at Egyptian tourism companies and their international counterparts, as well as on the Internet.
Travellers arriving from countries declared by the WHO as severely infected with Covid-19 up to the epidemic level are required to submit a recent PCR test result upon entry to Egypt. The test must be done in the source country in a maximum of 48 hours prior the travel date. The list of the countries concerned will be announced on a regular basis on the WHO’s website.
AIRLINE MEASURES: Mohamed Mannar, the minister of civil aviation, explained that national flag carriers are rigorously disinfected before each flight, and the wearing of face masks inside the aircraft is mandatory for passengers and flight attendants.
Dry meals and canned drinks only are served, and universal protection kits containing disinfectants, gloves, and facemasks are available with spare quantities with the flight crew. Printed publications such as newspapers and magazines are prohibited on-board.
To serve passengers with chronic diseases who are unable to wear a facemask for long periods of time, Mannar said a specific area of the aircraft would be allocated to them. The last two rows of seats in the aircraft would be allocated to any passengers showing symptoms of illness during the flight.
“A flight attendant will be assigned to attend them, and there will be a separate toilet for their use,” Mannar said, adding that all necessary preventive measures had also been taken at Egyptian airports, including their regular sterilisation and disinfection, with all employees and staff members following all health and safety regulations.
The wearing of face masks is mandatory inside airport facilities, physical distancing is maintained, and the temperature of all travellers and airport staff is checked and luggage is disinfected before being placed on conveyor belts.
El-Enany said the government had been working to prepare for the reopening of Egypt’s tourist resorts since last month, when it began licensing hotels to receive domestic tourists at reduced occupancy levels. Since mid-May, the permissible occupancy rate has been only 25 per cent of capacity, increasing to 50 per cent in June.
Some 280 out of around 1,400 hotels and resorts in Egypt have thus far received a hygiene safety certificate after meeting the health and safety regulations published by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and approved by the cabinet in accordance with the standards of the WHO.
The regulations oblige hotels to space out restaurant tables and restrict elevator capacities, apply physical distancing, and sanitise rooms and air them for 12 hours after guests’ departures. Parties and other events are prohibited.
Regular monitoring of hospitality establishments is carried out by joint committees among the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the relevant tourism chamber, and international consulting firms specialising in health and safety.
“Any establishment breaching hygiene regulations will have its authorisation revoked,” El-Enany asserted. The ministry stopped the operation of three resorts in Hurghada after the operation of local tourism was restarted after they breached the regulations, with the licences of their managers being withdrawn.
Should a tourist begin to show mild symptoms of Covid-19 during a holiday in Egypt, he or she will be quarantined in the same hotel and will receive medical treatment on site, El-Enany said. All hotels have agreed to designate a specific wing or floor to such cases to ensure their isolation. Severe cases will be transported to hospital, and the government will meet the costs of any treatment needed.
During his tour this week, El-Enany inspected a collection of certified hotels and resorts as well as a certified diving centre. Diving has its own regulations in order to enhance the safety of equipment.
The minister inspected the regular and efficient cleaning and disinfection of furniture and fabrics, public places, and touching points in hotels and resorts. Hand sanitisers are provided in these in different areas, while proper ventilation is maintained in compliance with the requirements of the ministry of health and population regarding central air conditioning.
The safe disposal of waste is carried out according to the guidelines of the ministries of health and population and the environment, and the disinfection of laundry facilities is carried out daily.
SAFE TRAVEL: The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has approved Egypt’s regulations for the resumption of tourism and awarded the country its Safe Travel Stamp on Saturday.
The WTTC designed the stamp to enable travellers to identify destinations and businesses that adopt its hygiene and safe travel protocols.
Gloria Guevara, WTTC president and CEO, said that she was delighted to see major countries and destinations such as Egypt joining the list of global destinations adopting the protocols. This not only showed the success of the WTTC Safe Travel Stamp, but also demonstrated its importance to travellers and those who work in the sector, she said.
“We thank these destination countries and cities for working with the WTTC at this time which is the time for cooperation,” Guevara said.
“This is a milestone in our bilateral cooperation with the WTTC,” El-Enany said. The WTTC decision reflects Egypt’s commitment to the safe resumption of inbound tourism with strict hygiene safety measures to its superb, sunny, and healthy beaches, he added.
“Egypt is looking forward to welcoming you soon to its resorts in the Red Sea and South Sinai governorates and the Mediterranean coast in the Marsa Matrouh governorate,” he said.
To promote tourism in the international market, the Ministry of Tourism and antiquities has launched a promotional video as part of its campaign called the “Same Great Feelings”.
The video, entitled “A Tourist’s Journey in Egypt,” is published on Egyptian, Arab, and international social-media platforms.
“This video is one of the many ways that Egypt is preparing for the return of tourism in July,” said Tarek Hosni, the minister’s advisor for marketing and communication. It was produced as part of the Egyptian Tourism Authority’s promotional campaign, which in its first phase is being advertised on the social-media platforms of the main inbound tourism markets to Egypt, including in Asia, the Arab Gulf states, and European nations including Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine.
The video will also be posted on several Arab and international TV channels such as CNN and the Discovery Channel.
The video campaign is funded by the Egyptian Tourism Authority, and its production was funded by the Egyptian Tourism Federation and tourism investors.
The goal of the campaign is to reach Arab and international audiences with news of the ways Egypt has prepared for the return of tourism after having taken all the necessary precautionary measures to make their stay both pleasant and safe.
HURGHADA MUSEUM: During his visit to Hurghada, El-Enany inspected the precautionary measures being taken at the Hurghada Museum and announced its re-opening to the public starting in July.
The museum was opened in February as the first museum of antiquities in Hurghada and one linking cultural to leisure tourism. It is the city’s newest tourist attraction, the first of its kind on the Red Sea coast, and the most prominent project implemented by the ministry in partnership with the private sector.
“It is a leading example in Egypt linking maritime and leisure with cultural tourism,” El-Enany said, adding that the ministry was set to copy the experience at the Sharm El-Sheikh Museum, which is scheduled to open soon.
He said the government had not shouldered any financial costs in the construction of the Hurghada Museum, which had cost LE185 million. The financing was provided by the ministry’s partner company, which had also provided showcases, the interior design of the galleries, and state-of-the-art lighting and security systems equipped with surveillance cameras and alarms.
The revenues from the new museum will be equally divided between the ministry and the company.
“The Supreme Council of Antiquities [SCA] is the sole authority responsible for the management and security of the Hurghada Museum collection, as well as anything related to antiquities, such as the exhibition halls and the maintenance and restoration labs,” El-Enany said, explaining that private investors would be responsible for the museum’s facilities and services.
The decision by the ministry to operate the new museum in partnership with the private sector was taken with the aim of promoting tourism in Hurghada, linking culture to leisure and maritime tourism, and mobilising private resources in the establishment of the project.
The museum is a one-storey building designed according to the highest international standards, covering 3,000 square metres and exhibiting a collection of 1,791 artefacts brought from various storehouses in the Red Sea area and beyond.
“Under the title ‘Beauty and Luxury,’ the museum displays artefacts showing the beauty and luxury of the ancient Egyptian civilisation through its different dynasties,” said Mahmoud Mabrouk, advisor to the minister of tourism and antiquities for exhibition design.
The star of the exhibition is a beautiful bust of queen Merit Amun, daughter of king Ramses II, discovered at her temple in the Ramesseum near Luxor. It was put on show after its discovery at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and now it is one of the main attractions at the Hurghada Museum.
The museum displays artefacts that show off the domestic items and cosmetics used by the ancient Egyptians, such as hair accessories, wigs, creams, perfumes and jewellery.
Sports like hunting and fishing and musical instruments and scenes from dance and musical performances from the Pharaonic era to modern times are also on show. A model showing how perfume was made in ancient times and how the ancient Egyptians decorated their tombs is also on show.
A large collection from the former ruling Mohamed Ali family is on show, including a collection of awards, cosmetics, and jewellery.
The private partner of the museum, Khaled Mahfouz, told the Weekly that it highlighted the role that the government was playing to support investment in Egypt. He said the idea had been to link leisure to culture tourism and to provide another attraction for tourists in Hurghada, encouraging them to prolong their stay.
The museum also has a commercial area with shops selling replicas, handicrafts, jewellery, and books. Mahfouz said that modern sales systems were in place at the shops, meaning that products were identified with barcodes and could be paid for easily with cards.
An open-air area with an amphitheatre has been built outside the Museum where musical and art performances are planned.
Sharm El-Sheikh Museum
Sharm El-Sheikh Museum: In Sharm El-Sheikh, El-Enany visited the Sharm El-Sheikh Museum to inspect work being done in preparation for its opening.
The Sharm El-Sheikh Museum is the second to be run in partnership with the private sector after the Hurghada Museum.
Construction work began on the museum in 2006 but stopped in 2009 due to architectural problems and then the lack of a budget in the aftermath of the 2011 Revolution. Work resumed early this year with a budget of LE300 million.
Moemen Othman, head of the Museums Sector at the SCA, said the Museum was originally a one-storey building with several halls, but after its redesign it was divided into two large galleries on two levels.
The first is 1,200 square metres in area and displays a collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts illustrating life and the afterlife in ancient Egypt as well as the relations of the ancient Egyptians to animals. The second hall will put on show objects from Egypt’s different civilisations, as well as the ancient Silk Roads that once linked East Asia to Europe.
Among the most important artefacts, Othman said, were the Hathour Column, which will be the core of the museum, as well as a head of the Pharaoh Tuthmoses II and a collection of mummified animals.
The area outside the Museum has been allocated for landscaped areas, bazaars, and restaurants and cafeterias to attract tourists to the coastal city in the evening. A centre to produce and display Sinai handicrafts will also be established. Othman said that the Museum would be equipped with a state-of-the-art security system with surveillance cameras monitoring it minute-by-minute over 24 hours.
Mahmoud Mabrouk, the designer of the museum displays, said that it would provide a “light cultural meal” for tourists in its two halls. He said that pieces would be carefully selected according to the highest standards in order to reflect the way the ancient Egyptians lived thousands of years ago.
The museum would display domestic items such as beds and dining tables, he said. Jewellery and the ornaments of kings, priests, and citizens would also be displayed. Cosmetics would be shown through a collection of wigs and other items.
Mabrouk said that part of the hall would be dedicated to the afterlife through a collection of funerary furniture. A complete example of a tomb would be on show to explain to visitors the idea of the afterlife and what it represented for the ancient Egyptians.
“Wildlife and the ways the ancient Egyptians respected animals will also be on show,” Mabrouk told the Weekly, explaining that animal mummies discovered at the end of last year at the Saqqara Necropolis outside Cairo, such as cats, hawks, eagles, crocodiles, rats and cobras, would be on show.
He said that tourists visiting the museum would have a good idea of how the ancient Egyptians had lived and how life had developed through the different ages.
The second hall will include items from all the civilisations that Egypt has hosted through its long history and be called the Hall of Civilisations. It will include artefacts from the Graeco-Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Periods, in addition to civilisations that did not settle in Egypt, but passed through on the ancient Silk Roads, such as the Chinese civilisation.
Mabrouk said that a complete Roman bath would be displayed. When the Romans came to Egypt in the first century BCE, he said, they set up popular baths, including steam rooms, discussion rooms, and bathtubs, and these had survived into the later Islamic era.
A model of an Ottoman room will also be on show, along with a display of desert life including Bedouin tents from Sinai and Siwa.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly