Despite the preventive measures restricting the movement of tourists around the world owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, many tourism experts believe there is now a golden opportunity for Egypt’s archaeological tourism to regain its allure.
According to Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled El-Anany, Egypt’s tourism revenues dropped to $4 billion in 2020, down from $13 billion a year earlier.
But Egypt has the opportunity to reinvigorate the tourism sector, despite the coronavirus, especially after the magnificent events of the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade and the discovery of the Lost Golden City near Luxor, said Radwa Al-Swaify, head of research at Pharos Holding, an investment firm. Archaeological tourism draws in more revenues than beach tourism, which was hard hit due to the pandemic last year.
On 3 April, Egypt held an awe-inspiring parade that made international headlines to transfer 22 royal mummies from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Egypt’s first Islamic capital of Fustat.
Al-Swaify expects tourism revenues to reach $7 billion in 2021, saying that the tourism sector will recover in October, by which time the effects of the worldwide roll-out of coronavirus vaccines will be felt.
The recent archaeological discoveries are the excellent promotion Egypt needs to attract travellers that spend more than 150 euros a night, as opposed to beach vacationers that spend on average $60 a night, said Mohamed Othman, head of the Cultural Tourism Committee, a body that comprises more than 100 hotels in Luxor and Aswan.
Othman said that revenues from cultural tourism are not limited to tickets bought to visit temples, but also include night stays in fixed and floating hotels.
There are 130 floating hotels based in Luxor and Aswan along the River Nile that have some 3,000 rooms among them. There are also 120 dahabiya boats styled after 19th-century boats and built in colonial style. “A night in a floating hotel costs 200 euros and maybe double in busy seasons,” said Othman, adding that there was a need for more investment in hotel establishments, especially in the five-star category.
Markets exporting cultural tourists are concentrated in Western Europe, Northern America, a few countries in Southern America, and East and South Asia, said Elhami Al-Zayat, former head of the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Tourism.
The spending of tourists from Japan, South America, New Zealand, Australia, and Hong Kong exceeds $1,800 a week, while the average spending of tourists from Western Europe comes in second at $1,300 a week, with tourists from China and India at $900, he added.
These rates can be increased six-fold if cultural tourism is linked with conference tourism that caters for leading companies, Al-Zayat said, explaining that the latter kind of tourism tailors itineraries ranging from seven to 14 days.
Travellers from East and South Asia have not exceeded the million mark, said Nasser Abdel-Aal, former advisor to the minister of tourism for East and South Asia affairs, adding that following President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to that region before the outbreak of the coronavirus Egypt had received increasing numbers of tourists from these areas.
In 2018, Egypt received more than 500,000 tourists from China, Abdel-Aal said.
Cultural tourism comprises 20 per cent of Egypt’s touristic activities, while 80 per cent of the country’s travellers target beach and safari destinations, said former tourism minister Hisham Zazou, adding that Egypt has all it takes to attract vacationers interested in archaeological tourism.
The pristine waters of the Red Sea have been stealing the hearts of travellers over the past two decades, “but Egypt’s archaeological attractions are no less enchanting and can lure high-spending tourists,” Zazou concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly