2022 Yearender: A holiday adjourned

Monica Naguib, Saturday 31 Dec 2022

The war in Ukraine has taken its toll on the global economy and has unsettled Egypt’s tourism sector.

Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor
Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor


After two years during which Egypt saw a slump in tourism, the numbers of tourists visiting the country, including the cultural sites of Luxor and Aswan, have been reviving. However, even though the two ancient Egyptian sites are once again enjoying the benefits of increasing tourism, the war in Ukraine has impacted the larger sector.

Luxor has had its fair share of events in recent weeks, with the Avenue of the Sphinxes at the Karnak Temple reopening to tourists on 24 November after renovation and hundreds of visitors at its door the next day, for example.

Similarly, Sharm El-Sheikh has been gearing up to receive more visitors during the important winter season after the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and then the resort’s being taken over in order to host the UN COP27 Climate Conference between 6 and 18 November.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi seized the opportunity to call for an end to the Russia-Ukraine war. “We are ready to work to stop the war, and I imagine that all the leaders present share the same opinion of the need to stop the war,” the president said when addressing the COP27 participants.

“We have suffered a lot from the ramifications of the coronavirus crisis over recent years. Now we are suffering because of the Russian-Ukrainian war. I call in my name, and, if you will allow me, in your names, for an end to this war. Let this destruction and killing end.”

While the tourism sector was reviving in the wake of the pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February led to a severe hit to the industry in various countries. Egypt’s tourism sector revenues dropped by 70 per cent in 2020 due to the pandemic, and hotel occupancy rate dropped by 60 per cent, causing losses of $14 billion, according to Finance Minister Mohamed Maait.

But in July 2021, Egypt was among the first countries to receive tourists once again as travel restrictions began to be lifted. Tourism revenues exceeded $13 billion in 2021, close to pre-pandemic numbers.

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), eight million tourists visited Egypt in 2021, a 117.5 per cent increase over the 3.7 million in 2020. Tourists from Eastern Europe accounted for 50.6 per cent, followed by 18.9 per cent from the Middle East, 16.4 per cent from Western Europe, and 7.1 per cent from Africa.

A total of two million tourists came from the Arab countries in 2021, compared to 900,000 in 2020. CAPMAS said that the average number of nights tourists spent in the country was 12.4 in 2021, compared to 11.4 in 2020.

However, the war in Ukraine has created new problems for the industry and the Egyptian economy as a whole. Tourism, along with the revenues of the Suez Canal, is considered the primary source of foreign currency.

Another factor that has negatively affected the economy has been the wave of inflation and the devaluation of the local currency that have been seen this year. Russia and Ukraine are also among Egypt’s most important tourism markets.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, thousands of Ukrainian tourists found themselves stranded in Egypt. And with the airspace closed, there was no way for them to go back to their country. The chairman of Egypt’s Tourism Development Authority (TDA) said that the number of people who could not fly back to Ukraine was close to 22,000.

The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities requested that hotels continue to offer their services to Ukrainian tourists at the same rates they had booked at. Yet, since not all the tourists could afford the extra costs, Egyptian hotels and travel agencies ended up being owed money by many tourists as a result without any guarantee that they would be paid.

Ukrainian tourists constituted the second-largest percentage of tourists in 2019 at roughly 1.6 million, a 32 per cent increase since 2018. Based on data from the Ukrainian Embassy in Cairo, over 727,000 Ukrainian tourists visited Egypt in 2020, or 21 per cent of the total foreign tourists that year.

The Ukrainian State Agency for Tourism said that 1.46 million Ukrainians visited Egypt in 2021, making Egypt the second-most popular destination for Ukrainian tourists after Turkey.

Even after the war in Ukraine ends, it seems likely that tourism from Ukraine will be much reduced owing to the economic situation. Tourism from Russia is likely to be less affected, and at a recent press conference Russian Ambassador in Cairo Georgy Borisenko said that his country was not seriously affected by the western sanctions that have been imposed on it.

Hisham Al-Damiri, a former head of the TDA, said that after the return of Russian tourists to Egypt after the ban on flights to Sharm El-Sheikh following the downing of a Russian aircraft in 2015, Egypt had received 45 to 50 per cent of the previous number of Russian tourists.

According to Borisenko, in 2021 700,000 Russian tourists visited Egypt, with 125,000 in the first two weeks of 2022.

As a result, tourists from Russia and Ukraine counted for a third of the total number of tourists traveling to Egypt.


Before the pandemic, Russian and Ukrainian tourists used to spend about $45 billion every year on outbound travel, roughly eight per cent of the global total. Today, new travel destitutions are being rediscovered for tourists from around the world, including Western Europeans.

“Tourists are looking for countries that are cheap, safe, and attractive. This is why Western Europe is no longer on the table. Many tourists choose to travel to countries like Mauritius and the Maldives instead,” Khaled Ali, an assistant manager at the Seera Travel Group in Cairo, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The destinations of Russian and Ukrainian tourists before the war were not only within Europe but also in several Middle Eastern countries. Currently, Russian passport holders are banned from receiving tourist visas for countries in the Schengen Zone that covers the EU countries in Europe.

Countries like Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia could lose up to 10 per cent of their annual visitors due to the ban.

The tourism sector in Turkey has been among the most affected. The country’s currency crisis, rising costs, and decrease in tourists during the pandemic have made the recovery of the sector much harder.

Inflation reached 73.5 per cent year-on-year in Turkey in May, causing a 91.6 increase in food prices. The rise in global prices resulting from the war in Ukraine has caused a huge gap between Turkey’s imports and exports, putting additional pressure on the lira. The exchange rate has jumped from 8.6 to the dollar to over 18 in a year.

Russian and Ukrainian tourists count for over 27 per cent of the total number of tourists visiting Turkey, according to the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Seven million Russian tourists travelled to Turkey in 2019. In 2020, the number dropped to two million.

However, Turkey has been aiming to attract tourists from all over the world to make up for the loss of Ukrainian and Russian tourists. Tourists from the Middle East, Egypt in particular, counted for the most, alongside those from Bulgaria, Germany, and the UK.

Turkey is also a crucial transit point for Russian nationals during the war, as they are not required to hold an entry visa, and the country’s airspace is open to Russian planes. Turkey until recently also accepted Mir card, a Russian card payment system for electronic fund transfers established by the Central Bank of Russia in 2017.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, some wealthy Russians resorted to buying properties in Turkey and the UAE, both of which offer residency incentives for property owners. Foreigners who own a $250,000 property in Turkey for three years can apply for a Turkish passport. Buyers in the UAE can get a residence permit if they meet certain criteria.

Russian and Ukrainian tourists topped the list of nationalities visiting Turkey in 2021, with over 4.7 and 2.1 million tourists, respectively. According to a report by tourism database company Forward Keys, Turkey’s tourism levels in 2022 have been the same as in 2019.

The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism said in a data release that over 23 million tourists visited Turkey between January and July this year, a 128 per cent increase over last year. It said that 2.2 million Russian tourists entered Turkey between January and July 2022, compared to 1.6 million for the same period in 2021. The weakening lira has made Turkey more attractive to tourists.

Some 374,000 Ukrainian tourists entered Turkey between January and July 2022, compared to 1.1 million for the same period of 2021.

“Hotels across Europe received far fewer bookings this year. The new destinations are Turkey and Egypt,” Ali said.


“It is necessary to knock on all doors to revive the tourism sector in Egypt, which has two million people working in it,” said Magdy Salim, a former official in the Ministry of Tourism, in an interview with the website Al-Monitor.

Egypt is exploring and executing new ways to attract tourists. The government started implementing a facilitation package for tourist visas in early April, meaning that citizens of Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US, the UK, and the Schengen countries can all receive a visa on arrival.

To compensate for the loss of Ukrainian and Russian tourists, Egypt is shifting the focus to Arab tourism from the Gulf. According to the Ministry of Tourism, 20 per cent of the total number of tourists before the pandemic were from the Arab countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE.

The Ministry launched a promotional campaign on social media in April entitled “Your Vacation in Egypt” that aims to attract tourists from the targeted countries that are looking for a holiday destination.

Elhami Al-Zayat, former head of the Egyptian Federation of Tourist Chambers, said that tourists from western Europe used to make up over 50 per cent of tourists annually and that Egypt’s new promotion of the country’s culture and antiquities could help to bring about a recovery in numbers.

Amr Al-Kadi, CEO of the General Authority for Tourism Promotion that is affiliated with the Ministry of Tourism, said that the new campaign was also intended to revive domestic tourism. During the COP27, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Ahmed Issa also highlighted eco-tourism opportunities in Egypt to the participants that connect tourism to the environment.

He said in a statement that the goal was to increase the annual number of tourists to certain destinations by 25 to 30 per cent, among them popular destinations like Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada, Aswan, and Luxor.

Resorts like Sharm El-Sheikh are well-known among Russian tourists, and when the city hosted the COP27 signs and flyers were written in both English and Russian.

Sharm El-Sheikh lost many tourists during the period when Russian flights to the resort were banned as well as during the pandemic. Then, just as the tourists started to come back, the war in Ukraine led to a further reduction.

However, the COP27 has reminded the world of the exquisite beauty of Sharm El-Sheikh, and tourism experts are expecting more tourists to come to Egypt and Sharm El-Sheikh in particular as a result of the Conference.

On another note, the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) on the Pyramids Plateau said in November that it would be holding limited events and group visits before its operational trial phase. Several sites will be accessible, including the Atrium, the Hanging Obelisk Square, and the Children’s Museum.

Furthermore, new archeological discoveries this year are likely to draw tourists as well. With several discoveries made in South Sinai, North Sinai, Aswan, and of course, Saqqara, many tourists have wanted to see the country for themselves.

Minister of Culture Nevine Al-Kilani also announced the official registration of sites connected to the Holy Family’s Journey in Egypt on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Such efforts have been paying off, and based on travel reservations with international tour operators for the upcoming year, the Travel Awaits website has ranked Egypt as the ninth most popular tourist destination for 2023, also highlighting it among the top destinations in 2022.

The website TripAdvisor chose Cairo and Luxor as among the 22 most popular tourist destinations in 2022, while Hurghada is among the top 10. Egypt is also on the travel website Lonely Planet’s list of top 10 countries in 2022.

The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities was keen to make the most out of the 2022 Football World Cup in Qatar. Several facilities made plans to attract tournament fans, and a special visa was being provided to tourists wanting to enter Egypt during or after the tournament.

According to a cabinet decree, tourists holding a World Cup Hayya Card would be exempted from visa fees, whether for holiday or transit in Egypt, for the duration of the World Cup from 20 November to 18 December.

Deputy Minister for Tourism Affairs Ghada Shalabi said in a statement that there had been cooperation with the Chamber of Tourism Establishments to offer discounts on accommodation for online visa holders.

Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Mustafa Waziri added that the SCA had agreed to grant a 50 per cent discount to holders of the Hayya Card to visit archaeological sites and museums in Egypt for the duration of the football tournament.  

Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Issa said that a new tourism strategy will be launched during the first quarter of 2023, encouraging all types of tourism and including beach tourism as well as cultural, family, and adventure tourism, among others.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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