As more and more people get vaccinated in Egypt against Covid-19, many of the country’s tourism professionals are predicting that Egypt will see a take-off in winter tourism.
Last summer, many Arab and foreign tourists returned to Egypt, often visiting well-known destinations such as Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh, while charter flights started to come back in large numbers following the lifting of the Russian ban on flights to Egypt.
However, there are still fears that a fourth wave of Covid-19 could hit the world this winter, including Egypt, and increasing vaccination rates on its own may not curb the wave or entirely revive tourism.
Egypt’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled El-Enany dispelled these fears in a recent interview with the US CNN network’s Richard Quest on “Quest Means Business”.
On the prospects of the return of tourism to Egypt and the country’s strategy for sustainability, El-Enany expressed an optimistic outlook. “Egypt has seen rising numbers of tourists over the last two or three months,” El-Enany told CNN, explaining that “Covid-19 is almost non-existent at the destinations of Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada.”
“We had a very good summer,” he elaborated. “The Russians are coming back to Egypt after a six-year [fkight] ban to the Red Sea area [and] to Sharm El-Sheikh. The British started to fly back from London to Sharm El-Sheikh two weeks ago. Tourists from Germany, Italy, the Ukraine, Belarus, and Saudi Arabia are returning to Egypt.”
“So, we have had very good numbers during the last two or three months. And we’re very optimistic because we’ll be the only destination which has a warm winter. You can swim in Egypt during Christmas time,” El-Enany said.
The minister’s optimistic outlook is not unfounded. Mohamed Othman, head of Luxor’s Cultural Tourism Marketing Committee, an industry group, said that the “Covid-19 pandemic hit at a time when Egypt was regaining its earlier tourist numbers.”
He added that, “in the aftermath of the pandemic there was a need to turn to domestic tourism in order to revive at least 50 per cent of the tourist sector. Safety measures were implemented across the country, and beach tourism was reopened followed by cultural tourism in September 2020.”
Egypt’s adherence to precautionary measures to curb the spread of the pandemic, like early closures and the gradual re-opening of markets, helped the country gain global confidence. Othman hopes tourist rates will again pick up this winter season, which started in October and is due to last until May.
“Much will depend on the government’s ability to increase vaccination rates, as well as people’s adherence to precautionary measures. Both of these will help to increase the number of tourists heading to Egypt,” Othman said. The revival of global tourism and the global rates of Covid-19 infection are equally important factors that will decide whether tourism in Egypt will take off this season, he added.
All in all, he is optimistic, and there are many rays of hope on the horizon.
“There are many indications that this winter will be a good season for tourism because almost all those working in the tourist sector, particularly in Egypt’s most important destinations like Luxor, Aswan, Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada, have already been fully vaccinated,” Othman said.
“All those dealing with tourists in those areas — people working in hotels, boats, at archaeological sites, in tourist transportation, in bazaars and others — have all received the vaccine.”
Othman said that he also expected that many upcoming events will help to revive tourism in Egypt, most notably the inauguration of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) on the Giza Plateau, the opening of the Luxor Rams Road, the launch of the Ancient Egyptian Food Festival, and World Tourism Day activities.
Hotels should not reduce rates in attempts to attract more tourists, he said. “Lowering hotel rates will ultimately reflect negatively on the industry, particularly in cities like Luxor and Aswan which are unique cultural destinations and where local tourism is usually limited to mid-year vacations as the heat starts to bite in these areas in spring,” he explained.
Instead, he suggests re-evaluating and upgrading hotel services, promoting new archaeological discoveries, participating more in foreign salons, and using social media as a way of promoting tourism.
Many events have already helped to promote Egypt as a top-notch tourist destination worldwide, Othman said.
“There has been transparency in dealing with the rates of Covid-19 infections,” he said, and the country has launched events that have whetted the appetite of tourists worldwide. These have included the archaeological discoveries in the Sakkara area near Cairo, the spectacular procession of the ancient Egyptian mummies through Cairo during the inauguration of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Fustat in Cairo, the restoration of the Karnak Temple and the Road of Rams, and other events that have put Egypt in the limelight worldwide.
The country has also been keen on participating in foreign tourism exhibitions, including in the US, France, the Czech Republic and the UK.
“This has played a positive role in reviving tourism,” Othman said, adding that the four weekly flights arriving from Spain since July and the lifting of the Russian ban on flights to Egypt have also helped to revive cultural tourism. Russian tourism contributes around a quarter of Egypt’s recreational tourism.
Mohamed Kaoud, head of the Tourism and Aviation Committee at the Egyptian Youth Business Association, agreed, saying there has been increased demand from many European countries, especially in Eastern Europe, to visit Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada, and this increased further after the re-starting of charter flights to these destinations. Cairo and the North Coast remain the destination of many Arab tourists, he said.
However, Kaoud may not be as optimistic as Othman about the winter season this year. He expects a smaller turnout of tourists compared to the summer season despite the spread of vaccination. Many people are still anxious about the pandemic, and Egypt is still seen as a country with a high rate of Covid-19 infection.
“But Egypt is luckier than many other countries as it is one of the tourist destinations receiving the highest rates of tourists since the outbreak of the pandemic, thanks to the country’s promotional campaigns,” Kaoud said. “These campaigns involved both the government and the private sector represented by hotels and tourist companies, and they have worked hand-in-hand to market Egypt abroad. It would be great if we could regularly assess the feedback from these plans and their role in increasing the number of tourists visiting Egypt.”
Kaoud said that his committee reflects the vision of the private sector regarding improvements in the business climate. It examines the role of different tourism sectors in promoting investments and integrated plans to increase the influx of tourists. These tend to focus on studying specific markets, defining target customers, and concluding feasibility studies that assess the potential number of tourists and expected financial gains.
The North Coast has become one of the most important tourist attractions in Egypt, he said, especially after the construction of the new city of Alamein. “Alamein has already encouraged touristic investments in the region, and most of the hotels there can now market their services on both the local and international levels by participating in various tourist exhibitions,” Kaoud said.
He added that his committee also focuses on African tourism by preparing plans to foster markets in Africa. “This is in line with Egypt’s policy of encouraging investments in Africa,” Kaoud explained, adding that “opening new markets is the key to promoting tourism.”
CELEBRATING SUMMER: Wagdy Saad, president of the Dolphina Group in Sharm El-Sheikh, a tourist company, said there had been a good summer season with a boom in both Arab and local tourism.
The “Fly Dubai” campaign had seen the launch of three weekly flights from Dubai to Sharm El-Sheikh, he said, after Governor of South Sinai Khaled Fouda had made the deal with the UAE. There had also been flights from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Lebanon, and Jordan throughout the summer.
Egypt received at least 28 weekly charter flights from Russia split between the Red Sea destinations of Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada. Fouda said this figure would be increased to a target of 60 weekly Russian flights.
Russian tourists used to represent 80 per cent of all Red Sea tourism, while British tourists represented 15 per cent, he said. “It is expected that Russian tourism to Egypt will be revived in less than a year,” Fouda said. “Tourists coming from the UK, Germany, and France are also expected to increase at the end of October, and these are some of the largest markets for Egyptian tourism.”
A delegation had been sent to Serbia with the aim of promoting tourism and strengthening relations between the two countries, Fouda said. It had marketed Egypt’s tourist attractions not only in Serbia, but also in other countries in the region such as Romania.
All the officials who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly emphasised that Egypt is keen on vaccinating wider sections of society so that it will be removed from any remaining red lists. Saad said that the country was still on some red lists because sections of the population remain unvaccinated, but that this will change now that the country is aiming at vaccinating a higher percentage of it.
Tourism will also increase as both Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh have proven to be virus-free and their inhabitants entirely vaccinated.
He said that the Dolphin resort in Sharm El-Sheikh was one of the city’s most important tourist attractions. It provides dolphin-assisted therapy to children with disabilities, and recent studies have shown that swimming with dolphins can be therapeutic for children with autism, attention deficit disorder, physical disabilities, and various psychological disorders.
The dolphin resort started in 2000 and provides a variety of activities ranging from training dolphin trainers to the organisation of cultural events and documentaries about dolphins.
Magdi Sadek, a member of the Chamber of Tourism Companies, said the government has outlined a comprehensive plan to promote local tourism as well, including attractions in school curricula and running school trips for children to see them. It also intends to reduce the price of tickets to encourage more people to visit sites and museum as part of the promotion of local tourism.
The attractions include Oyun Moussa, the Springs of Moses, springs in South Sinai said to be referred to in the biblical Book of Exodus, the local zoo, St Catherine’s Monastery, the Ras Mohamed Nature Reserve, and ancient temples in Luxor and Aswan.
“Egypt is also blessed to have long coastlines, with 1,000km to the east and 1,000km to the north and about 750km of beaches in South Sinai,” Sadek said. Meanwhile, the country has developed many different types of tourism including conference, medical, religious, diving, and agricultural tourism.
Sadek said the pick-up in tourism would depend on the application of safety measures, particularly in food and hygiene. “Hotels that do not provide services that live up to international standards will discourage tourists,” Sadek said, adding that the country needs to focus interest on the new tourist city of Marsa Alam off Hurghada, building a marina there to attract yachting tourism.
Mohamed Samir, director of media and development in New Alamein City, said the new city could be a global tourist destination in winter, in addition to being a destination of many local and Arab tourists in summer. “It’s the capital of Arab tourism, global sports tourism, and the international arts,” Samir said.
The city includes a variety of tourist attractions, including archaeological areas as well as cultural and commercial venues. There is a Roman theatre, a museum, an opera house, a cinema complex, a major library, and a central park which will be opened next summer. It has a 14km beach, a bicycle walkway, playgrounds, service areas, and landscaping to international standards including lakes hosting marine sports and major recreational areas housing shops and restaurants.
A branch of the University of Lausanne for Tourism and Hospitality has also been built in the new city with the aim of graduating a new generation of tourism professionals.
“The new city is an integrated urban complex providing luxury and affordable housing and facilities so that people can live there the whole year round,” Samir explained.
Fadi Ramzi, an expert in e-marketing and lecturer in digital media at the American University in Cairo (AUC), said that there have been indications of the return of European and particularly Russian tourists to Egypt, especially as more and more people are getting vaccinated every day.
He said that there was a need to focus more on marketing campaigns, however, particularly online campaigns, which should promote Egypt as a coronavirus-safe destination.
“In the meantime, opening new markets is the key to reviving tourism, which should not be focused on traditional tourist attractions like the Pyramids, temples, and archaeology,” Ramzi said. “Instead, we should focus on new tourist attractions and venues such as conference and yachting tourism,” he concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.