Tourists visit the Giza pyramids area, on the outskirts of Cairo, January 16, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt on Thursday postponed the date it would stop issuing on-arrival visas for individual travellers until an online visa system is put in place, a foreign ministry spokesman told Ahram Online.
This comes almost two weeks after the government announced tighter visa rules requiring lone travellers to apply for visas at embassies instead of on arrival at Egyptian ports of entry, a move that critics said would make it more difficult to revive the country's battered tourism industry.
Officials said in mid- March that the system remains unchanged for tour groups, which can still purchase visas at the airports. Individual foreign tourists would be required to obtain prior visas at Egyptian consulates abroad, a move officials say is meant at bolstering border security.
The changes were supposed to take effect on May 15, but foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdel Atty said the date has been delayed until an electronic system for issuing the visas is set up.
The measure "aims to organise the process of foreigners entering the country in a manner that respects national sovereignty and considers national security, without affecting tourism flow rates," the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry spokesman said work is underway on the "technical sides" of the electronic visa system, without giving a specific timeframe.
The new regulations had sparked criticism from local and international tour operators and travellers who have long considered the visa requirements reasonable.
Egypt's once-flourishing tourism industry- a pillar of the economy- has been hammered by protracted political turmoil since the 2011 popular revolt that toppled long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak.
In 2014, around 10 million tourists visited Egypt, a sharp slump from a record 2010 figure of over 14.7 million who visited the country's ancient sites and sea resorts.
Luring back tourists is key to efforts to shore up Egypt's flagging economy, with the vital industry contributing 11.3 percent of the country's gross domestic product and generating over 14 percent of foreign currency revenues.
The country aims to attract 20 million visitors annually by 2020, recently appointed tourism minister Khaled Rami told Ahram Online in an interview in March.
This is not the first time such restrictions are introduced and shelved.
In September 2011, authorities approved rules that would have forced individual tourists to apply for visas in their home countries before entering Egypt, but the plans were suspended three days later.