All the hotels in Luxor, the Upper Egyptian city that is said to be the world’s biggest open-air museum, were fully booked for the first time in a decade last weekend.
While this was primarily attributed to the city’s being the home of the Avenue of the Sphinxes, inaugurated after an extended restoration in a grand ceremony last week, it was also an indicator of improved tourist inflows to Egypt as a whole and to Upper Egypt in particular.
Luxor residents seemed happy that the city has been given a new lease of life after the remains of the ancient city, like many of the nation’s tourist sites, was hit hard by the pandemic.
“This reminds me of the city’s heyday, when we were busy transporting tourists,” Ali, a Luxor taxi-driver, told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said that the re-opening of the avenue was a blessing for the whole city to promote tourism.
Egypt’s tourism industry has suffered for almost two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tourism revenues plummeted to $4 billion in 2020 from $13 billion the year before. Just prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, tourism had been recovering from years of bans from important tourist exporters such as Russia and the UK on the back of security concerns.
Egyptian tourism investors and industry professionals believe that the spectacular event in Luxor, and before it the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade in Cairo, are part of a push to promote Egypt as a major tourist destination.
They say that because of these events prospects for Egypt’s winter tourism season are very promising, especially with an increasing number of tourism workers and residents getting vaccinated and Covid-19 precautionary measures being implemented throughout the country.
Egypt is one of a few tourist destinations in the world with warm and sunny winter weather.
Mohamed Othman, head of the Cultural Tourism Marketing Committee, a non-governmental organisation, told the Weekly that the improved demand for cultural tourism, especially in Upper Egypt, had started even before the event in Luxor.
The impact of the event had started with its early announcement seven months ago, he said. Photographs and news items, the announcement of new discoveries along the avenue, restoration work carried out at the Karnak and Luxor temples, and the development of the city’s infrastructure had all helped promote the city and cultural tourism in both Luxor and Aswan, he added.
This had led to an increase in demand that had reached 38 per cent, he said. In addition, Othman said that spending had gone up from $80 to between $100 and $104 per day.
The re-opening of the Avenue of the Sphinxes had caused tour operators and agencies specialising in the Spanish and US market to change their programmes and extend stays in Luxor by a day to allow tourists to explore the avenue, he said.
The Japanese market had also decided to send tourists to Egypt earlier than usual. Tourists from Japan will arrive in January instead of October 2022, he said.
“After the event, I received many requests from Italian, French, Spanish and international fashion designers asking to organise fashion shows on the avenue,” Othman said. This represents a qualitative shift in this type of tourism in Egypt, he added.
The creation of new destinations that combine leisure and cultural tourism has been instrumental in boosting cultural tourism. Inaugurating new museums in tourist governorates such as Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh and the newly launched flights from Sharm El-Sheikh to Luxor and vice-versa to encourage day trips were important in that regard.
“The flights decision has encouraged tourists to visit Luxor and Aswan, the paradise of temples in Egypt, after enjoying the beaches of the Red Sea,” Othman said.
“Luxor and the Sphinx Avenue is only the beginning,” he said, pointing out that there should now be monthly events to promote the avenue as a separate tourist attraction.
He would like to see the Valley of the Kings open to visitors at night, as Luxor does not have nighttime entertainment and opening the valley could give tourists the opportunity to stay longer to explore the temples and visit the tombs.
Othman praised the efforts being carried out by the government to support tourism and the ministry’s organisation of training programmes to develop the capabilities and skills of tourist workers, in addition to enhancing public awareness about the importance of tourism in schools, universities, and various media outlets.
But not everyone is as optimistic as Othman. Alaa Akel, chairman of the steering committee of the Egyptian Hotel Association, said the impact of the events would only be felt later. He is worried that the new Omicron variant of the virus could dampen demand from western Europe, the top market for cultural tourism, because of potential travel restrictions. He pointed out that Switzerland has already put Egypt, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark on its red travel list following the announcement of the new variant.
In the meantime, he said it was a blessing that the Russian market, which had brought in the largest number of international visitors to Egypt before 2015, has now returned, as well as the Ukrainian and Belarusian tourists who come to Egypt for leisure and beach tourism.
They would be interested in a one-day trip to Luxor to admire its monuments after enjoying the sun, sand, and sea in Egypt’s Red Sea resorts, Akel concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.