Maximising tourism potential

Samia Fakhry, Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

Egypt needs to do more to maximise its potential for medical, marine, and conference tourism, writes Samia Fakhry

Maximising tourism potential


Despite the present geopolitical tensions, tourist arrivals in Egypt in January and the first 10 days of February were five per cent higher than a year earlier, according to a Ministry of Tourism statement.

The tourism sector had a good year in 2023, with around 15 million tourists visiting Egypt and marking a 27 per cent increase from 2022 figures.

According to the cabinet’s Strategic Guidelines for the economy, during the six years to 2030 the country is targeting to increase tourism revenues by at least 20 per cent annually to attain at least $45 billion.

Hotel capacity should increase to at least 500,000 rooms by 2030, compared to 230,000 as of June 2023.

The guidelines, prepared by the cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC) and issued in early January, also envision an increase in the number of tourists to 30 million annually, with a focus on attracting higher-spending nationalities.

The IDSC advises a sharper focus on improving the tourist experience through measures to enhance the quality of tourist services implemented in a coordinated manner by all the relevant authorities.

Since 60 per cent of tourists arrive by plane, the IDSC proposes a multi-phased strategy to increase seats in the short, medium, and long terms, setting targets for the number of increases at each stage.

“Linking tourism with flight capacity is an excellent idea,” Elhami Al-Zayat, former head of the Egyptian Federation of Tourism Chambers, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “You can’t increase the number of tourists without increasing the number of airplane seats. This requires a certain degree of flexibility on the part of the civil aviation authorities, who will be asked to allow more incoming flights.”

Al-Zayat said that while the new Sphinx International Airport serves Greater Cairo, the authorities have so far refused to add the word Cairo or Giza next to the name of the airport in flight schedules abroad.

“Tourists don’t choose flights directed to it because they don’t know where it is,” he said.

He said he hoped this problem would be solved soon, because drawing attention to the new airport would reduce the pressure on the Cairo International Airport. It would also help generate a larger influx of tourists and, by extension, hard currency.

Al-Zayat said that Egypt needs to focus on certain types of tourism and build more hotels in places that serve this targeted activity. New Alamein could be a hub for small conference tourism on the North Coast, for example.

“Mercedes Benz could host a conference for a team of engineers and designers to come up with a concept for a new model there, for example. The hotel would provide a dedicated and properly equipped space for them to focus on their project away from their day-to-day workplace,” he said.

However, for this to be more successful recreational activities such as tennis courts that could be covered and heated for winter should be available. “Developing business and conference tourism is one way to increase tourism in the winter,” Al-Zayat said.

Berenice, South Marsa Alam, and Shalateen are other areas that offer excellent prospects for tourism and hotel expansion, he added.

Alaa Akl, head of the Chamber of Tourism Establishments, said that the government has launched a LE50 billion initiative to increase hotel rooms by building new hotels, expanding existing hotels, or refurbishing and reopening hotels that have shut down or gone out of business.

The initiative’s bylaws have not yet been finalised, but when it goes into effect it should offer facilitated loans at rates that are more attractive than investors will find in the banks, he said.

Nile cruises are another promising area for expansion. According to Akl, total Nile cruise capacity currently stands at 12,000 cabins, and the target is to more than double this to 25,000.

“But we cannot reach this goal without developing the infrastructure and services to support it, such as increasing dockage space and facilities. To do this, the ministries of transport and irrigation and other government agencies need to work together to expand these facilities and bring them up to the required standards.”

Al-Zayat added that it was also important to improve the quality of some cruise boats and to provide more training for staff on the boats and wharfs. He also urged the government to develop a plan for minimising the risk of accidents.

The IDSC Guidelines also envision transforming Egypt into a “main destination on the global medical tourism map,” and they set a target of 200,000 medical tourists a year, yielding revenues of up to $1.2 billion.

Tourists would arrive on special medical tourism visas, and competitively priced packages would be designed for patients and those accompanying them. Workers in healthcare facilities would be given special training for dealing with this form of tourism, and therapeutic health services would be upgraded.

“Medical tourism could be very successful. Instead of someone in England having to wait six months to get an operation, the British government could contract with Egyptian hospitals or organisations to treat British citizens for the same amount it would cost to treat them at home,” Akl said.

“After the surgery, the patient would be transferred to a hotel with properly equipped rooms and physiotherapy services. The package would include accommodation for the person accompanying them.”

Medical tourism already exists in Egypt. Many people from Yemen, Iraq, or elsewhere in the Arab region come to Egypt to be treated in Egyptian hospitals because Egyptian doctors are reputed to be highly skilled.

Developing medical tourism would help to improve the medical and healthcare sector, develop the hotel and tourism industry, and generate greater foreign-exchange revenues.

Yacht tourism is another area that the IDSC strategy aims to address by raising Egypt’s share of this type of tourism and generating revenues of at least $3 billion annually. It calls for increasing marina capacities, improving facilities and services, increasing the number of marinas to 23, and upgrading at least 15 to international marinas.

The marinas would include fuelling, maintenance, and long-term yacht storage services. The private sector would have a central role to play in many of these activities.

“Currently, we only have five tourist-class yacht marinas,” Akl noted. “To reach the target, wharfs must be equipped with services for fuel, water, berthing, and maintenance and repair. I believe that the government’s interest in encouraging investment in marina development will help to achieve the target number of tourist-class marinas and the required services. Good revenues will follow.”

Al-Zayat added that it was realistic to project revenues of more than $3 billion a year from yacht tourism. One reason was that when yacht owners dock their yachts, they do not leave them empty. The crew remains on board, and they need to eat and drink and purchase things for themselves as well as clean and maintain the ship. All this also generates revenue.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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