Interview: Ibrahim El Missiri
What impact have security concerns had on the volume of visitors coming to Egypt?
IBRAHIM EL MISSIRI: Security concerns have resulted in a drop in visitor numbers in recent years, especially following the Metrojet crash, which dramatically affected the tourist season in 2015. The impact of terrorist attacks on the tourism sector usually lasts a couple of months, but in our case the impact extended into 2016 and 2017. In recent months we have however witnessed a rebound in activity. We are expecting the tourism sector to return to normal over the course of the upcoming season, between November 2017 and April 2018, especially on the mainland side of the Red Sea. Image-wise, Hurghada has been affected less than places like Sinai Peninsula. This rebound has been supported by a surge in flights, particularly in Hurghada, which accounts for 85% of flights coming into Egypt.
In terms of security, Egypt has made tremendous efforts to comply with the most stringent international regulations regarding airport safety. In addition, the Ministry of Interior has also worked with the Ministry of Tourism to ensure thorough security camera coverage in and around most hotels and resorts.
What can be done to further extend the average stay of foreign tourists?
EL MISSIRI: The average stay for tourists in Egypt is around seven to 10 days, similar to most southern European markets, such as Spain, Greece or Turkey. However, Egypt could further emphasise two key areas to extend the average stay of tourists. The first is the development of managed serviced apartments to better position the country in the long-family-holiday segment. In addition, Egypt should do more work on combining holiday destinations, bridging cultural tourism and beach tourism. For example, when you travel to Tanzania, you start with a safari and you end up in Zanzibar. To that end, the recently completed highway connecting Luxor and Hurghada also connects the Red Sea and the Nile Valley in a two and a half hour drive, which should help tour operators to build offers that combine the Nile Valley and the Red Sea.
Now that security and mobility restrictions have been lifted, we can further promote certain destinations and raise awareness about the scope of tours and activities that can be done in these recently opened up areas. The Ministry of Tourism is working now on promoting new trails and trekking opportunities in global tourism forums. As elsewhere in the world, we have also witnessed the role of tour operators shrinking, while online travel agencies – where people book their own holidays – have developed. Egypt has to make sure there is a sufficient supply in logistical services for easily connecting destinations.
Which source markets offer the greatest potential for growth in visitor volumes?
EL MISSIRI: With the slowdown of European markets, whether it be Western Europe, Eastern Europe or Russia, we have seen a surge in Chinese arrivals over the past year, with the gradual development of charter flights from China. India also appeared to be a growing source market. The Red Sea has seen an increase in flights from the Middle East due to increasing interest among those from the Gulf, Arab expatriate communities and Egyptians living abroad.
Which niche sectors show the most promise?
EL MISSIRI: One niche sector on the rise is surfing tourism and, more generally, sports tourism, with the significant development of kite surfing spots over the past few years. Egypt has the perfect combination of sandy beaches and steady, constant winds. Another promising area is the medical and wellness sector. Egypt has an excellent medical backbone with quality doctors and hospitals. In order to improve medical tourism, we should further build on these assets to develop thalassotherapy and medical treatment facilities.
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