Egypt’s tourism sector, particularly workers working in Nile tourism, are anticipating the effects of the announcement that 45 cases of infection with the coronavirus were recorded on board a Nile cruiser going from Aswan to Luxor last week after being in contact with a Taiwanese-American tourist aboard the ship who tested positive after returning home in late February.
The sector is highly vigilant, and it is monitoring the spread of the new coronavirus, called Covid-19, across countries that export tourism to Egypt in an attempt to estimate its effects on the country’s tourism business.
Until Monday night, infected cases had reached 59. “It is not possible to assess the amount of travel cancellations for the time being,” said Ihab Abdel-Aal, a member of the board of the Chamber of Tourism Companies.
The Escapade tour agency, which had registrations of 120 hotel rooms per week, reported that all its reservations until May had been cancelled, according to Chairman Mounir Wissa, a member of the board of the Chamber of Hotels.
The winter season from October to April is a high period for Egypt’s Nile tourism.
After the 45 cases were reported on the Nile cruiser, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities distributed information on precautionary and preventive measures as per the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
During a meeting between the managers of hotels and floating boats and the ministers of tourism, health, and civil aviation in Luxor on Sunday, Maged Fawzi, head of the Chamber of Hotel Establishments, announced that it had been agreed to purchase 1,000 infrared thermometers to be distributed in land and floating hotels to detect any cases of high temperatures among guests or employees.
An international company specialising in food safety has been contracted to inspect Luxor hotels and will proceed with its measures starting next week.
Mohamed Osman, head of the Committee for the Promotion of Cultural Tourism in Luxor, was not optimistic about future cancellations of trips to Egypt. However, “what is reassuring is that tourists currently in Luxor and Aswan have not requested the cancellation of their trips,” he said.
The tourism crisis resulting from coronavirus fears comes a few weeks after the UK allowed the resumption of flights to Sharm El-Sheikh after a four-year hiatus following the downing of a Russian airliner after take-off from the Red Sea resort killing all people on board.
A wave of optimism had hit Egypt’s tourism sector when the UK resumed its flights to Sharm El-Sheikh, and the sector was even more optimistic after it was announced that new flights would be operated between Luxor and Sharm El-Sheikh starting on 20 February.
In the fiscal year 2018-19, tourism revenues in Egypt recorded $12.57 billion, up from $9.804 billion a year earlier. Investment banks expected the tourism sector to record $15 billion in earnings by the end of this fiscal year.
A Colliers International report had earlier predicted that hotel room revenues in Cairo, Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada, and Alexandria would increase in 2020 on an annual basis, expecting a two per cent increase in revenues in hotels in Cairo, 13 per cent in Sharm El-Sheikh, 10 per cent in Hurghada, and nine per cent in Alexandria.
Chairman of the Egyptian Federation of Tourism Chambers Ahmed Al-Wassif told Al-Ahram Weekly that it was too early to estimate the number of cancellations owing to fears about the spread of the coronavirus as travellers who had booked trips could not receive refunds since there was no international travel ban.
What could be calculated, however, were no-shows of tourists from China and Italy, where some cities have been locked down and travel bans have been in force, Al-Wassif said. The following months would show the repercussions of the crisis on world tourism, he said.
New reservations for trips to Egypt have fallen by 70 to 80 per cent compared to last year, the media reported Hossam Al-Shaer, chairman of the Chamber of Tourism Companies, as saying. Tourism had also slowed down across the world, he added.
By Sunday night, more countries had put restrictions on travel to and from Egypt, including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar. While Oman suspended travel to and from Egypt for a month starting on Sunday, Saudi Arabia suspended travel to and from Egypt and eight other countries and banned travellers who had been in these countries 14 days or less before their arrival in Saudi Arabia.
The health ministries of Bahrain and Oman tweeted that people arriving from Egypt should isolate themselves in their homes for two weeks.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Youssef, head of the Tourism Development Authority, told the media that the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities would be contracting an international firm next week to design a new promotional campaign for Egypt.
The campaign will target up to 12 markets, particularly those that export tourism to Egypt, such as the UK, Germany, Italy, and the US.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly