Egyptian trinkets in search of lost buyers (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt's vital tourism industry, crippled by political turmoil, will suffer a 25 per cent drop in revenue in 2011 and will need until September to get back on track, the tourism minister said in an interview on Thursday.
An 18-day popular uprising that forced out President Hosni Mubarak saw much of Egypt's economy grind to a halt and slashed tourism revenue for February by more than half.
March figures fell by 60 per cent from last year, Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour said.
With its pharaonic antiquities and year-round warm beaches, Egypt relies on tourism as its top foreign currency earner, source of over a tenth of gross domestic product. It provides one in eight jobs in a country beset by high unemployment.
"Our revenues of 2010 were $12.5 billion, we should be 25 per cent below that in 2011," Abdel Nour told Reuters, but said it could be pushed even lower.
"Egypt is in transition, at the end of the day, and any transition path could be bumpy," he said.
The turmoil that scared tourists away and prompted overseas warnings against visiting Egypt has abated. Tourists are dribbling back and most of the warnings have been lifted.
But hotel occupancy rates in the key Red Sea resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh, remain below 40 per cent, Abdel Nour said.
"Until today, we have not recouped the normal pace of tourism in Egypt. That was expected and it is understandable. But we expect to be back on track by September."
Egypt is launching a global advertising campaign, pressing for the lifting of remaining travel bans and offering incentives to cut charter flight fees, the minister said.
The tourism ministry is working with young Egyptians who have launched an "Egypt is Safe" campaign, and is counting on bringing visitors to Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicentre of protests, as an attraction.
"Tahrir square has become a target for tourists to visit, it has become a popular destination," Abdel Nour said, adding that social media were also being used to bring back tourists.
Google Inc, whose executive Wael Ghonim played a key role in Egypt's uprising, wanted to coordinate a marketing campaign with Egyptian tourism authorities and would help with selling airline tickets online, he said.
Egypt has coped with a number of tourism scares in recent years. In 1997, gunmen killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians at an ancient temple near the southern town of Luxor, severely damaging tourism.
From 2004 to 2006, there were a series of deadly bomb attacks at Red Sea resorts in the Sinai, but tourist bookings swiftly recovered.
Recovering from the political turmoil this time will be much more challenging and take more time, Abdel Nour said.
"The name of the game is peace and stability and until the tourist is convinced that security is restored to the country, we will not be able to recoup what we have lost," he said.
"We are doing whatever we can to inform the world that security is prevailing, that hotels and Egyptians are waiting to receive tourists," Abdel Nour said. "And with this effort, I expect the last quarter of the year to be excellent."