Regaining its status as a traditional tourist destination has been a key focus for Egypt’s tourism industry over the past few years, after its reputation was damaged during the post-2011 period of political instability. The further loss of several high-volume markets in 2016 – including Russia and Italy – has prompted sector authorities not only to redouble their efforts in this respect, but also to diversify offerings away from cultural tourism in order to draw in non-traditional visitors.
Historically, Egypt’s ancient wonders along the Nile have helped make tourism a cornerstone of the economy. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, in 2005-10 the sector’s average total contribution to GDP was 18.43% per year, with revenues peaking at $12.5bn in 2010. However, these figures dropped dramatically after 2011, with the average falling to 12.28% in the 2011-15 period.
Over these last five years though, Russia proved a consistent customer even as other European tourist figures declined. According to the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), in 2015 Russians accounted for 2.4m of Egypt’s 9.3m visitors. However, Moscow’s suspension of flights to Egypt following a terrorist attack on a Russian airliner flying out of the popular resort town of Sharm El Sheikh in October 2015 caused a 45.9% decline in tourists from Russia in February 2016 compared to the previous year, according to data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics. Similarly, the chilling of Egyptian-Italian relations in 2016 saw Italian tourism bookings for the 2016 summer season drop by 90% in comparison to 2015, according to local press reports.
In light of this, Elhamy Elzayat, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, told OBG that Egypt is now switching its focus to smaller, secondary European markets, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The MoT is also concentrating its efforts on developing tourism from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, as demand from this region is substantial and growing. A total of 55% of Cairo’s source markets are located in the GCC, according to global real estate firm Colliers. As a reflection of the growing demand coming from the region, in December 2015 Kuwait Airways launched direct flights from Kuwait City to Sharm El Sheikh, a move that Sheikh Salman Sabah Salem Al Homoud Al Sabah, minister of information for Kuwait, told local press was an explicit effort to support tourism in Egypt.
The government is also promoting Egypt to other North African markets, according to Elzayat, by further relaxing visa requirements for tourists from Algeria and Morocco. The hope is that this might divert them from other regional summer destinations, such as Turkey.
Although industry operators are hoping to continue promoting cultural tourism – the average expenditure in this segment is five times higher than all-inclusive resort visits, according to Elzayat – they are also branching out when it comes to other tourism categories. Business travel is increasingly becoming a focus, as is the promotion of religious pilgrimages, according to Hala El Khatib, secretary-general of the Egyptian Hotel Association. Tapping into this latter market could be worthwhile – the UN World Tourism Organisation estimates that over 300m people worldwide go on pilgrimages every year.
Elzayat also told OBG that wellness tourism – trips centred around spas and relaxation in Aswan or Siwa, – could be another avenue to explore.
To boost tourist inflows from alternative source markets, expanding air connectivity will have to become a priority. According to El Khatib, some 98% of tourists arrive in Egypt through its airports. Visitor numbers from India and China, for example, are increasing, but EgyptAir only flies to Mumbai, and the number of Egypt-China flights is capped at 15 per week for Egyptian and Chinese carriers, as dictated by a bilateral agreement between the two countries. Increasing the number of flights and adding new destinations will be key to regaining revenues and visitor numbers.