Egypt Is Back In The Tourism Business
Despite lean years, indicators suggest that Egypt’s tourism industry is rebounding
Egypt is implementing a grand plan to revive its floundering tourism industry. With the allocation of a multi-million-dollar budget, Cairo is adding attractions such as a Disneyland-inspired venue in the Matrouh Governorate and placing electric cars at the pyramids to revolutionize how tourists are transported.
The amusement park is being funded through a joint U.S.-Saudi Arabian $3.3 billion investment agreement signed between the Entertainment World Company and Matrouh Governor, Ala Abu Zeid. The park, which will also a feature a city devoted to education, accompanied by hotels and malls, will be built over the course of a decade with its first phase slated for completion in two years.
A 45-minute plane ride away from Matrouh lie the famous pyramids of Giza, a UNESCO World heritage site that has experienced a decline in tourism since Egypt’s violent revolution in 2011. Recent innovative efforts to connect the pyramids to the newly built Grand Egyptian Museum are intended to boost the number of visitors.
Egypt appears willing to go to any length to revive one of its most important industries. Last month, the Council for Tourism Promotion arranged for the world’s tallest man and shortest woman, Sultan Kosen (8’2’’) and Jyote Amge (25 inches), respectively, to visit the pyramids in a widely publicized promotional initiative.
Egypt is also one of the three countries set to be connected to Neom, Saudi Arabia’s planned megacity along the Red Sea geared towards diversifying Riyadh’s economy. The intended business hub is scheduled to be completed by 2025 and stands to be a major draw, particularly among Middle East residents.
Egypt’s economy was hit hard following the 2011 uprising that deposed longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak and has since been unable to recover due to ongoing security challenges and political upheaval, including the subsequent overthrow two years later of President Mohamed Morsi by current leader Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. And now, many international figures consider the upcoming Egyptian elections—set for March 26-28—a farce given Al-Sisi’s crackdown featuring arrests and intimidation of his potential opponents.
Egypt’s tourism industry took a further nosedive in October 2015, when a Russian commercial aircraft was shot down by the Islamic State’s affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board. In response, Russia and European countries such as the United Kingdom suspended air travel to certain Egyptian resorts. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent reinstitution of flights from Moscow to Cairo promises to bring at least some relief to the Egyptian economy.
In fact, there are already signs of a rebound according to Amr Abdel Ghaffar, Regional Director for the Middle East at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), who told The Media Line that “tourism grew strongly in Egypt in 2017, reaching 55 percent and leading growth in the Middle East. Until October, almost 7 million international tourists visited Egypt in 2017, generating $5.5 billion in revenues, thus catching up on the losses experienced in 2016.”
Ghaffar noted that “promotional efforts and a return of stability and confidence contributed to this recovery, fueled in particular by the come-back of Russian tourists after the declines suffered in previous years.” Therefore, he concluded, “UNWTO is confident that the sector is prepared to continue its path to recovery and consolidation.”
Dr. Bashir Fatah, a professor at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies likewise expressed optimism, explaining to The Media Line that Egypt’s increased tourism budget has been “easy to provide because now the military forces and police are operating together. The political economy depends on military support and the Egyptian economy has been growing in the last two years.”
He noted that from a security perspective, “Egypt is better than ever before. Things are under control. Police are becoming efficient and the military is ensuring security around the country.” Fatah contended that the government’s commitment to restoring stability has helped to “foster foreign investment and tourism with Russia and other international places.”
Nevertheless, the effects of the tourism industry’s plunge are still being felt by local Egyptian travel agents. Mohamed Daha, Transport Manager at Select Egypt Travel, stressed to The Media Line that “tourism is very slow. It is not like it was before the revolution. We currently receive mostly Chinese and Indian tourists as the Europeans and Americans hear that Egypt is not safe in the media. But the media is misguided, it shows only the worst and not any good. I believe it is still safe here, Egyptians are friendly and the tour guides are like the ambassadors of the country.”
Daha conceded though that “North Sinai, with its Bedouin tunnels between Egypt and Israel, is not safe, especially for women.”
For his part, Wei’l Muhamed, Tourism Manager at Travel to Egypt Tours, assured The Media Line that “Egypt is very safe. Our president is from the army and people trust the army a lot. Sisi is trying to make people happy, even though he may be [distorting] the facts.”
Muhamed lamented, however, that “tourism was greatly affected because of the revolution. What we went through from 2011 to 2013 is too heavy for any country to experience. Big companies were the first to drop, rather than the small ones. They could not afford to give salaries to their many workers.
“Smaller companies like ours have few people, so there was no problem for us to continue,” he concluded, “and those who love tourists, like me, stayed in the field.
(Daniella P. Cohen is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)
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