Moderate impacts on tourism

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 7 Nov 2023

Experts are hoping that the tensions in the Middle East will have a minimal effect on Egypt’s tourism sector, writes Nevine El-Aref

Egypt made record tourism revenues last year
Egypt made record tourism revenues last year

 

“We are thankful that we did not cancel our Nile cruise and enjoyed an unforgettable travel experience,” said one American tourist who was on a Nile cruise in Egypt last week and preferred to remain anonymous.

She explained that many of her friends thought she had lost her senses when she decided to embark on a cruise along the Nile during the current tensions in the Middle East region and the ongoing war in Gaza.

Her words resonated with many working in Egypt’s tourism sector, especially since tourism is one of Egypt’s main hard-currency earners. In fiscal year 2022-23, Egypt’s tourism revenues reached a high of $13.6 billion, compared to $10.7 billion in 2021-22.

S&P Global Ratings said in a newly released report this week that Egypt is expected to experience a decrease in tourist revenues ranging from 10 to 30 per cent as a result of the crisis in the region. This decline could result in the country losing four to 11 per cent of its foreign-exchange reserves, it said.

However, Egypt’s tourism minister is more optimistic. Speaking during a press conference held on the fringes of the World Tourism Market in London this week, he said that Egypt’s tourism sector has not been significantly affected by the geopolitical tensions.

He said that the primary reasons for the slight shortfall are regional tours, which mean travel through regional products. These reservations account for less than 10 per cent of Egypt’s total bookings, he said. “There have been no significant cancellations in source markets that exclusively offer ‘Egypt-only’ products and the number of bookings has returned to normal over the past few days,” he said.

Tourist arrivals in Egypt in October reached 1.3 million, an increase of around eight to 10 per cent compared to the same period last year, the minister pointed out, adding that Egypt’s tourism remains on course to reach its goal of 15 million visitors this year.

The minister told Al-Sharq Bloomberg, an online news provider, that 90 per cent of tourists come to Egypt on 150 airlines and that the demand for Nile cruises has increased.

Head of parliament’s Tourism and Aviation Committee Nora Ali said that inbound tourism in Egypt has been moderately impacted by the geopolitical tensions in the region. She said most cancellations were by US citizens and added that the impacts were more felt in Sharm El-Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba, and Taba.

However, in Hurghada, Marsa Alam, Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan, which receive more tourists, reservations are stable, Ali said.

According to tourism expert Elhami Al-Zayat, the current political situation in the region will not have an immediate impact on the tourism sector. However, a negative impact on hotel occupancy rates and travel activities will be felt if the conflict continues or escalates.

During his press conference, the minister of tourism reviewed measures being taken to boost inbound tourism to Egypt, which include allocating more financing to the Egyptian Tourism Authority (ETA) to launch new online promotional campaigns and implementing joint marketing campaigns as well as familiarisation trips to Egypt for tour operators and airline agencies.

He pointed to projects aimed at developing archaeological sites and museums, especially those located in Historical Cairo. These projects are being carried out as part of the ministry’s plan to make Cairo a standalone tourist destination, particularly in the context of promoting the new Greater Cairo cultural product that enables tourists to visit archaeological sites and historical landmarks that bear witness to the multiple eras of Egyptian civilisation.

The winter tourism season is seeing developments in the international aviation traffic to Egypt, said Amr Al-Kadi, CEO of the ETA, adding that during the last week five international airlines have launched new flights from Britain, Spain, Abu Dhabi, Hungary, and Belgium to destinations in Egypt.

He said that the ETA is collaborating with tour operators to gather videos and testimonials from tourists currently in Egypt, presenting the argument in multiple languages that Egypt is a fantastic and secure destination to explore.

According to Said Al-Batouti, an economic advisor to the UN World Tourism Organisation, a report has showed that the tourism sector has been directly affected by the war in Gaza and has witnessed a decline in new bookings or a complete halt across the region.

The cancellation rate has reached 100 per cent in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, and Syria, he said. In Jordan, the cancellation rate has exceeded 90 per cent, while in Iraq, it is 85 per cent. The UAE has experienced a 45 per cent cancellation rate, Saudi Arabia 35 per cent, Egypt 26 per cent, and Cyprus 25 per cent.

Even the countries of the Maghreb region, such as Tunisia and Morocco, have not been spared from the negative impact of cancellations, albeit at lower rates.

“Although most Arab countries are still considered safe travel destinations, the ongoing war is currently impacting demand. There is hesitation in pre-booking for 2024 destinations in the North Africa and Middle East region,” the report said.

However, global tourism companies are not seeing a huge drop in demand for Egypt. During the All Saints Day vacations on 1 November, travellers who had reserved a trip to Egypt went through with their journey, including families with children, Bruno Abenin, sales director at Travel Evasion told the French newspaper Le Monde.

He added that in 2023 the number of Egyptian holidays sold by his company is on track to surpass a record set over 15 years ago, with 30,000 customers planning to visit Egypt.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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