08 Feb Egypt prepares for a big year of tourism
Almost three years after a Russian passenger jet was shot down by terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt tourism revenues recorded a year-on-year increase of 123.4 per cent in 2017 compared with the previous year.
The increase in revenues allowed the tourism sector to contribute up to $7.6bn to the Egyptian economy in the 12 months of last year. Various government figures have also suggested that the number of visitors reached 8.3 million in 2017, a 54 per cent increase from the previous year.
Tourism is a vital sector for an economy that has historically depended on it for its main source of foreign currency. But since the instability caused by the 2011 revolution, Egypt has struggled to attract the number of tourists it needs. Visitor numbers reached an all-time high of 14 million in 2010, but has since struggled to match this number.
More recently there has been some good news for Egyptians, who hope a recovery is around the corner. Hotel occupancy rates jumped to around 75 per cent in Luxor city in January. Although 80 per cent of those occupying rooms in Luxor were Egyptians, it is being received as a promising sign for Egypt’s southern cities, which have struggled more than others in the last few years.
Policymakers in Egypt have been keen to do whatever they can to boost the sector. In early 2017 a campaign to promote medical tourism was launched in partnership with football star Lionel Messi. Later in the year also saw a cabinet reshuffle bring in Minister of Tourism Rania al-Mashat, who was appointed in a bid to encourage more foreign visitors and investments in key touristic areas across the country.
Al-Mashat assumed her post by making statements that suggested the authorities are expecting Egypt to record its best tourism year since 2010. And while the predictions may not be so far-fetched with tourists indeed finding their way back to the North African country. Any increase will be heavily dependent on the return of Russian flights to Sharm el Sheikh and other Red Sea destinations.
Earlier this month Russia’s transport minister said that flights from Moscow to Cairo are set to resume by the end of this quarter. And if the Egyptians are able to finalise an agreement with the Russians to also resume flights to other destinations, the return of Russian tourists could give Egypt the boost it needs this year to record its ambitious targets.
Moscow grounded all commercial passenger flights to Egypt in 2015 over security concerns after a Russian Airbus A321 crashed in Sinai shortly after taking off from Sharm El-Sheikh. All 224 people on board were killed in the crash.
Another round of talks between Egyptian and Russian officials is planned to take place in April to discuss the resumption of charter flights from Russia to the Red Sea resort cities of Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh.
In 2015 Russian tourists made up a fifth of all foreign visitors in Egypt.