Although foreign visitor arrivals have held up relatively well in the face of recent challenges, declining only modestly, the domestic and regional travel segments are expected to fare better, helping to offset an overall decline in sector revenues forecast at 15% for 2015. Ayman Altaranissi, director-general of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, told OBG, “Arab tourism is picking up, and we are focusing on local tourism.”
In addition to the benefits gained by increasing spending by local visitors – which is more inured to some of the recent challenges, such as the Metrojet crash, than foreign spending – Egypt also has a growing middle class with rising purchasing power. While international tourists bring hard currency and help to balance the current account, local tourists may see the country through the rough patch until the rebound. “The new market is in the local market,” Cesare Rouchdy, regional director of marketing at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Egypt, told OBG.
As international traffic to Egypt has slowed, the Four Seasons has become busy with events hosted by Egyptians. While Egypt has been a famous destination for foreign visitors, it is actually the residents of the country who drive the sector by a wide margin. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, domestic travel spending was responsible for 64.1% of direct travel and tourism GDP in 2014.
By some measures, domestic spending has held up well throughout all the recent troubles. In local currency real terms, local tourism spending remained steady at around LE107bn ($14.6bn) between 2012 and 2014. In nominal terms, it has been rising consistently in recent years: LE56.2bn ($7.7bn) in 2009, LE63.2bn ($8.6bn) in 2010, LE72.1bn ($9.8bn) in 2011, LE86.9bn ($11.8bn) in 2012, LE95.9bn ($13.1bn) in 2013 and LE106.7bn ($14.5bn) in 2014.
Domestic tourists differ from their international counterparts. They spend less per day than overseas visitors, but they are a reliable group in terms of demand. Because of the high cost of international travel and because it is difficult for most Egyptians to get visas, they are not easily lost to competitive international destinations. The Egyptian passport is ranked 91st on Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index 2015, a global index produced in cooperation with the International Air Transport Association which ranks countries by the number of other countries that their citizens can travel to without a visa.
The Egypt Tourism Authority has been promoting domestic travel via efforts such as the “My Country is Beautiful” initiative. Under the programme, which was launched in 2013 and ran through to April 2014, discounts and promotions were available to participating domestic travellers. To a great extent, it was a reaction to travel bans put into place by European governments in the midst of unrest in the country. Following the downing of Metrojet flight 9268, many Egyptians took to the internet to show their support for Sharm El Sheikh and promised to travel to the resort to help make up for the loss of foreign visitors.
In June 2015 President Abdel Fattah El Sisi made a plea to Egyptians living overseas, asking them to return to offset the downturn in overseas visitors. He said that if 20-30% were to return, the tourism problems would be solved. In the aftermath of the crash of Metrojet flight 9268, the government committed $5m in support of the domestic tourism sector.
Earlier attempts to lift domestic travel numbers have met with some success. Between 2009 and 2013, trips taken by locals increased from 12.4m to 15m. In early 2015, the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Authority said that it seen an uptick of 20-30% in domestic tourists, in terms of traffic to Luxor and Aswan, and passengers on Nile river cruises. Hoteliers had been offering discounts to local families to make up for the lower international traffic. The pound’s depreciation and inflation may limit domestic spending, as people focus on saving in times of uncertainty.