On his first trip outside Europe since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili arrived in Egypt last Sunday for a visit on the invitation of Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled El-Enany.
During the three-day visit, Pololikashvili met with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli. He also travelled to Hurghada to inspect Egypt’s precautionary and hygiene-safety measures against the spread of the coronavirus in hotels, restaurants, a hospital and diving centre, and archaeological sites.
He also visited the Hurghada Museum, the Giza Plateau, and the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) outside Cairo.
“The UNWTO is willing to cooperate with Egypt to ensure the optimal benefit from Egypt’s tourist destinations,” Pololikashvili told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said that the organisation also wanted to benefit from the Egyptian model to develop tourism through comprehensive institutional reform.
Pololikashvili hailed Egypt’s efforts to resume inbound tourism starting in July after three months of suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic after adopting a host of strict precautionary and hygiene-safety measures.
He described the measures as “higher than those implemented in Europe”, pointing out that Egypt’s “unprecedented support” of the tourism sector, a vital pillar of the Egyptian economy, included incentives for investors to enable them to deal with the pandemic with the least possible losses.
Pololikashvili inspected the hygiene-safety measures being implemented by hotels in the Red Sea resort city of Hurghada, noting that visitors’ temperatures are taken at hotels, with these all adhering to a 50 per cent capacity rule put in place by the ministry to reduce crowding.
After the inspection, Pololikashvili tweeted that the hygiene-safety guidelines he had witnessed in Egypt met all international standards and that the UNWTO was glad to see “businesses restarting tourism in a responsible way”.
“Hurghada is ready to welcome tourists,” he wrote, adding that “Egypt is safe, ready, and open to welcome tourists from all over the globe.” He confirmed that all the precautionary measures taken were being implemented according to international protocols in all the country’s museums, hotels, restaurants, and airports.
He added that he would be going home without any fear of having contracted the coronavirus in Egypt. The numbers of infections announced by Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Population were trustworthy, he said, adding that “we have to trust each other because without trust there is no travel and tourism.”
Pololikashvili visited some of the mega-projects that Egypt is implementing in line with the highest international standards in tourism, among them the GEM on the Giza Plateau, which he described as a new tourist attraction for the whole of humanity.
El-Enany described Pololikashvili’s visit as important, fruitful, and rich. He said that a PCR test for the coronavirus was now mandatory for anyone arriving in Egypt as the government’s strategy aims to revive tourism while ensuring the safety of tourists and workers in the sector.
He said that Egypt had taken structural measures to revive inbound tourism and that starting in September cultural tourism would resume as well.
Egypt has resumed beach tourism in the South Sinai, Red Sea, and Matrouh governorates since July, and cultural tourism, including the reopening of all museums and archaeological sites, will begin in September.
This will also allow Egyptian and foreign visitors to travel between tourist cities, archaeological sites, and museums and will take place in compliance with precautionary measures and established regulations. Tourist buses and other facilities and activities will all operate at no more than 50 per cent of capacity.
Other measures include a limit of 25 people in groups of tourists visiting museums and archaeological sites, all guides wearing face masks while conducting tours using headphones inside museums, and the sterilisation of headphones after each use.
All museum floors and surfaces in communal areas will be sterilised before being opened to visitors, the temperatures of staff and visitors will be taken before entry, and a safe distance between all persons will be maintained.
El-Enany said that limits had been placed on the number of people present in museums and non-open-air archaeological sites at any one time. The limit for the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square has been set at 200 visitors per hour, with 100 visitors for all other museums and 10 to 15 inside pyramids or ancient tombs, depending on the size of interior spaces.
Measures being taken to promote cultural-tourism programmes in Upper Egypt as well as the “Summer in Upper Egypt” initiative will be extended to 31 October. The initiative includes a 50 per cent discount on adult foreigner tickets for museums and archaeological sites in Upper Egypt, and with student tickets usually being half the cost of adult tickets, all tickets for non-Arab visitors will be the same price.
The reoperation of Nile cruises has been set for October.
El-Enany said that projects were discussed at a meeting with Pololikashvili during the latter’s visit to support tourism in Egypt, among them holding an international conference to discuss issues concerning tourism.
The establishment of a youth academy and the promotion of new tourist destinations in Egypt under the heading of religious tourism were also discussed, particularly since Egypt has a dozen synagogues, dozens of ancient Coptic churches and monasteries, and large numbers of historically and architecturally very important mosques and other religious buildings.
During their visit to the GEM, El-Enany and Pololikashvili unveiled two large royal colossi to be displayed in their permanent location in the museum’s atrium. The colossi have been restored and cleaned, and they join other artefacts such as the colossi of king Ramses II and the column of his son Meneptah.
Both of the unveiled colossi were previously on show in the “Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities” exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in the US, the last stop of this exhibition tour before the objects returned to Egypt. They depict a Ptolemaic king and queen, each six metres tall and each found submerged in the Abu Qir Bay off Alexandria in 2000.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.