Starting in July, Egypt is to reopen its airports and the Red Sea, South Sinai, and Matrouh beach resorts to international travellers in the hope of salvaging this year’s tourism season and easing an anticipated recession caused by the lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
“We chose these governorates because they have coastal cities with warm and sunny weather and an open-air atmosphere, and they have also reported the lowest numbers of coronavirus infections,” Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said, adding that they were destinations tourists were eager to visit after months of confinement at home.
Trips overland between these destinations and others in the Nile Valley are still banned for the time being until further announcement. Other tourist destinations such as in Luxor, Aswan, and Cairo will be reopened gradually.
“We have been a bit later than other countries in announcing the resumption of inbound tourism,” El-Enany said. “But we are not in a hurry because we are keen to protect the safety of tourists as well our reputation as a tourist destination.”
The decision to resume inbound tourism is not Egypt’s alone, however, as it also depends on other factors. El-Enany said that over the past few weeks several Mediterranean countries had announced the resumption of tourism, but thus far no one had visited them.
“It all depends on other countries’ political decisions to open up, the tour operators’ willingness, and policies to market the destinations, as well as the appetite and financial ability of consumers to travel after the crisis,” he said.
The government has been working to prepare for the reopening since last month, when it began licensing hotels to receive domestic tourists at reduced occupancy levels. Since mid-May, the permissible occupancy rate has been only 25 per cent of hotel capacity, increasing to 50 per cent in June.
Some 232 out of around 1,400 hotels and resorts in Egypt have thus far received a “hygiene safety” certificate after meeting the health and safety regulations published by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and approved by the cabinet in accordance with the standards of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The regulations oblige hotels to space out restaurant tables and restrict elevator capacities, apply physical distancing, and sanitise rooms and air them for 12 hours after guests’ departures. Parties and other events are prohibited.
“Any establishment breaching hygiene regulations will have its authorisation revoked,” El-Enany said. The ministry stopped the operation of a resort in Hurghada earlier this week after it breached the regulations and annulled the licence of its manager for allowing guests to organise a party in the pool area.
“In order to encourage inbound tourism, the government has offered various incentives,” El-Enany continued. Among them is waiving tourist visas until 31 October and offering a 50 per cent discount on landing and parking fees and a 20 per cent discount on ground services at South Sinai, Hurghada, and Matrouh airports.
There has been a reduction of 10 cents per gallon in the price of airplane fuel.
Passengers taking EgyptAir and Air Cairo international flights have been offered a 20 per cent discount on entrance tickets to museums and archaeological sites all over Egypt as well as visitor passes in an offer valid for 15 days.
Other tourist sites including the Hurghada Museum, the Pyramids at Giza, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and Luxor’s Karnak Temple will reopen progressively, El-Enany said.
Egypt has approved hygiene safety protocols to receive tourists and ensure health and safety for employees and guests in hotels, passengers at Egyptian airports and in planes, and visitors to museums and archaeological sites.
They include pre-travel precautionary measures when passengers are departing for their destination, regulations for restaurants operating inside and outside hotels, and measures to secure transport operations.
Travellers are required to sign a declaration prior to receiving their boarding passes at airports outside Egypt certifying that they are not infected with Covid-19 and that they are personally responsible for informing Egyptian officials if they begin to show any signs of illness during their travel.
Travellers arriving from countries where the outbreak is contained will only have to have their temperatures checked on arrival at Egyptian airports, which have been outfitted with thermal screening gates.
Travellers arriving from countries with high infection rates, according to the WHO, will need to submit a PCR test result for the coronavirus 48 hours before travelling.
Civil Aviation Minister Mohamed Manar said that national flag-carrier aircraft would be disinfected before each flight and face masks would be obligatory on board for passengers and attendants.
Each passenger will receive a universal protection kit containing disinfectant, gloves, and masks, with spare quantities available if necessary from flight crew. They will also be barred from circulating magazines, newspapers, and other printed materials on flights. Hot meals will not be available, and they will be replaced by dry foods and boxed beverages, Manar said.
Special seats will be allocated for passengers with chronic health problems who cannot wear face masks for long periods of time, and any who develop symptoms during the flight will be isolated in the last two rows of seats with access to their own toilet and a dedicated flight attendant serving them.
Upon arrival at Egyptian airports, physical-distancing regulations will be maintained, temperatures measured, and luggage sanitised before it is placed on conveyor belts.
EgyptAir confirmed that it will begin operating regular flights to “several destinations” as of next month, with the exact schedule on offer due to be announced within a few days.
If a tourist begins to show mild symptoms of Covid-19 during a holiday in Egypt, he or she will be quarantined in the same hotel and will receive medical treatment on site, El-Enany said. All hotels have agreed to designate a specific wing or floor to such cases to ensure their isolation.
The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has issued new regulations and precautionary measures for visitors to archaeological sites as well as to archaeological missions hoping to resume excavations. It has also issued regulations for activities such as diving, parasailing, safaris, and others.
All the regulations abide by the hygiene safety measures issued in accordance with WHO measures.
Hisham Al-Demeri, former chair of the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Board, praised the decision to resume inbound tourism. He said that the recovery of the tourism sector globally would take time to return to pre-coronavirus levels, depending on factors such as a reluctance to travel as a result of the global economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
“If people travel, I think they will most likely travel to destinations closer to home to save money,” Al-Demeri noted. He said that people who could travel soon were those over 60 years of age, as they were less likely to be affected economically by the crisis.
Ahmed Abu Ali, the owner of a tourism company, said that Egypt needed to attract new markets, particularly in Asian countries that have recovered quickly from the coronavirus. He said that 60 per cent of tourism exporters to Egypt were markets that had been most affected by the coronavirus, among them Germany, England, Italy, Spain, and France.
Chair of the Egyptian Hotels Association (EHA) in the Red Sea area Alaa Akel said that the decision to resume inbound tourism, even if at low demand, was better than the lockdown and halting tourism movement. He also expected better occupancy rates in the winter season.
He said that Italy had expressed its keenness to resume tourism to Hurghada starting in July. Germany will start allowing its tourists to return to Egypt starting from 31 August, in addition to Ukraine, which will allow activities to resume during early to mid-August.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly