Egypt’s Red Sea hotels are enjoying 80 per cent occupancy rates, and the easing of restrictions on movement previously in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to keep them even busier, Alaa Akel, CEO of the Jaz Hotel Group and chair of the Egyptian Red Sea Hotels Association, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Over the last decade, Egypt has faced multiple challenges to tourism, starting with the 25 January Revolution, the halting of British and Russian flights to some destinations, and then the Covid-19 pandemic.
Before the pandemic started in early 2020, Egypt’s tourism revenues had drastically improved, recording $13 billion in 2019, Akel said. The following year was harsh on Egypt’s Red Sea resorts, and the country lost more than 75 per cent of its tourism revenues, recording only $4 billion in 2020.
The cabinet’s Coronavirus Crisis Committee brought all tourist activities to a halt in Egypt in March 2020. Hotel establishments reopened in May 2020 with an occupancy rate of 25 per cent, increasing in June to 50 per cent and in August 2021 to 70 per cent.
“2021 started on a good note and is getting even better,” Akel said. Tourist numbers from Germany, Poland, and some Eastern European countries, with the exception of Russia, to Red Sea destinations gradually improved in the first half of 2021. Russia decided to resume flights to the Red Sea in August after more than a five-year hiatus, Akel added.
In the first half of this year, Egypt received 3.5 million tourists who brought in revenues of between $3.5 and $4 billion, according to Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities figures.
Akel expects a tourist boom in Egyptian destinations during the last quarter of 2021, especially after many countries have lifted their travel ban on the Red Sea.
Several airlines have resumed or increased their flights to the Red Sea, he added. In late September, the UK updated its travel advice to move Egypt off its “red list” of travellers from countries deemed a coronavirus risk.
There are 69,000 hotel rooms in the Red Sea region out of a total of 210,000 in Egypt. They have increased their capacity by adding some 1,500-2,000 rooms, Akel stated.
The Red Sea hotels are also currently gearing up to participate in the World Travel Market held in London in November, Akel said, adding that this event is important in promoting tourist destinations during the winter season.
“Egypt is a well-known destination for British tourists who favour the country’s cultural and coastal attractions,” Akel said, saying they are known for their high-spending, long stays, and repeat visits.
Over the past two weeks, more British tourists have been staying in Red Sea resorts, recording higher earnings for Egyptian tourism than from Eastern European tourists, he said.
It will be difficult to judge the spending of Russian tourists before another six months due to the five-year halt of Russian tourism, he added.
At present, the majority of Red Sea tourists come from Germany, Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Kazakhstan, Akel noted, adding that Egypt ventured into new markets in Eastern Europe and Central Asia when there was a retreat from its main markets of Russia, the UK, and Germany.
Akel is optimistic about the winter figures, but he is concerned about the status of cultural tourism. “Improvements have been recorded in coastal areas like Hurghada, Marsa Alam, and Sharm El-Sheikh, but tourism in Luxor and Aswan is still fragile,” he said.
A boost in cultural tourism will require the collective effort of the public and private sectors, he suggested.
The Ministry of Tourism has recently decided to apply a minimum price of $40 and $28 for a five-star and four-star hotel room per night, respectively. “The hotels are ready to apply the decree. These prices are very low anyway, especially for five-star hotels,” Akel said.
The ministerial move is meant to prevent hotels from cutting prices too far when demand is low, he added.
The majority of hotels are striving to improve their revenues in the light of rising operating costs, and during the coronavirus crisis the government launched several incentives to help them out.
It assisted hotels in paying their electricity bills by reducing them to 40 per cent of the total, postponing the collection of late dues, and exempting them from paying real estate taxes until April 2021.
“The government has strongly supported Egypt’s tourism sector throughout the pandemic,” Akel concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly