Egypt’s major tourism stakeholders are optimistic about the future of the rapidly rebounding sector as the Ministry of Tourism’s strategy takes flight
While Egypt and its world-famous attractions might have been a must-visit destination for many people, since the 2011 revolution times have been tough on the tourism industry. The fall in tourist numbers has led to action by the government and the Egyptian Tourism Authority (ETA) in the form of a $68 million campaign that aims to reach 20 million tourists by 2020.
However, with the arrival of political stability, Egypt’s tourism sector is now seeing gradual recovery. 9.9 million tourists came to the country in 2014, up from 9.5 million in 2013. The campaign aims to further increase tourism numbers by focusing on six main areas: marketing, accessibility, cultural development, productivity, business development and new project development.
Part of that campaign will be to improve the image of Egypt in the media to reposition Egypt’s as a major tourist destination. Dr Manal Hussein, Executive Chairwoman at Orascom Hotels and Development believes the ministry’s goals are attainable and believes the change in negative press about Egypt has a major part to play in drawing back tourists. “I believe these numbers are reachable only if there is consistent and noticeable stability in the region. The media has an important role in swaying public opinion, and has a crucial role to play in portraying diverse angles to every story.”
One of the key areas of the campaign to attract visitors is Egypt’s accessibility and the air links the country has internationally. The government plan includes developing capacity at airports to comfortably handle incoming tourists. Hisham Zaazou, Minister of Tourism for Egypt, says that attracting airlines and direct flights to Egyptian airports will open up international links and increase tourism opportunities. “You have to look at airline capacities. The aircrafts that airlines have could fly non-stop to Egypt, then you have an unlimited amount of holiday makers.”
Hossam El Shaer, Chairman of Blue Sky Travel, one of the biggest tour operators in Egypt, reiterates the importance of improving air links, especially the private airline sector, “We need to improve the private airline business in Egypt. This needs to be done because carrying 20 million people while relying only on foreign charter companies is hard and risky. Every country who receives more than 20 million tourists per year has a good number of local airlines, and we do not have that.”
Investment is another key area for the future of Egypt’s tourism industry, not only by the government but by private developers too. The government is fast-tracking the development of new projects and simplifying land and permit allocation processes for new development projects. There is also a plan to encourage the creation of SMEs around large tourism operators such as restaurants and recreational activities to cater for tourists coming to the country.
However, as Mr Zaazou explains there are challenges in securing investors to certain parts of the country. “The biggest challenge is to get an investor to do this. Because an investor usually comes and buys land by the sea, which brings him the biggest return in the shortest possible time. If you ask him to go a little bit further, into the desert, where we have lots of land, to build a shopping mall, theatres, restaurants...that is not so easy.”
Mr El Shaer says that Egypt offers a high return on investment, and even during the country’s more difficult periods investment was high. “Egypt is still a very high return kind of investment. For example, during the revolution times, the return of investment of Egypt was higher than in Spain, even with the whole crisis. The GOP (gross operation profit) of hotels in Egypt before the crisis was 55 per cent and it is now 35 per cent, while the GOP in Spain is 28 per cent. Hence, the hotel investment in Egypt is still very attractive.”
While security may be one of the biggest concerns for tourists, things have dramatically improved and measures are being taken. Mr Zaazou explains, “There is a continuity of high security measures everywhere in Egypt, especially for tourism.
There are security people that you see and others that you do not see. If you look at the numbers, our partners, the tour operators abroad, those who are investing in charter flights, in allotments on the regular flights, those people are increasing capacities already for the summer and the winter seasons. So I think we can say that tourism destinations in Egypt are safe.”