After month after month of steady decline earlier this year, Egypt’s tourist industry is showing signs of life again.
In July, for the first time in 2014, official figures showed positive year-on-year growth. According to state statistics agency CAPMAS, 886,000 foreign tourists visited Egypt in July, a 15 percent increase compared to July 2013.
August arrivals jumped 76.7 percent year-on-year to reach 997,705 arrivals, a three-year high.
In September, Egypt recorded 883,946 tourist arrivals – lower than August figures, but almost twice as many as visited in September 2013.
Much of the year-on-year increase can be attributed to low figures from last year. In the aftermath of the overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, images of violence in Cairo and beyond were beamed to television screens around the world, frightening tourists away.
Industry experts say improved tourism figures show that tourists have started to feel safe visiting Egypt again. Egypt now has a “better image” than it did last year, says Karim al-Minabawy, president of Emeco Travel. After more than half a year of relative calm, potential visitors feel reassured, he says. “Lots of markets know that safety and security have been fine for months.”
Foreign governments have also been sending positive signals, with countries including Spain, France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom easing travel warnings in recent months.
A wave of human rights condemnations from governments and civil society does not appear to be putting the brakes on demand. Even the ongoing violence in the Sinai Peninsula does not seem to be putting tourists off, since it is happening away from tourist resorts. “People started to understand that this is so far from anywhere in the world,” Minabawy says.
Red Sea tourism, geographically the closest to unrest in Sinai, has in fact been the fastest to recover. “I have been informed that there is quite a healthy increase in visitors,” Minabawy says. This, he adds, is also gradually starting to create a knock-on effect for revenue, with higher demand allowing hotel owners to bring rates closer to pre-revolution levels.
Cultural tourism, the mainstay of the Nile Valley, has been slower to recover, but it also showing signs of growth, Minabawy says. Interest is returning from markets like the United Kingdom and South Africa, which have been remained slow but active in recent years. “The flow has increased over the last few weeks. There is a healthy flow of requests for February and March,” he says.
Other markets that haven’t been heard from in years are also making a reappearance. “Germany is coming back nicely,” Minabawy says. He has also seen a small but definite resurgence from the United States, Australia, Italy, Spain and France.
“It doesn’t mean we will see them today or tomorrow,” Minabawy adds. The further the distance a tourist has to travel, the longer lead-time they are likely to need to plan a trip.
Short-haul tourists, especially those from other Arab countries, have been the first to return, driving much of the summer’s recovery.
Medium-haul tourists, from central Europe, should begin returning from February to April, while those from far-flung locations like Australia or the United States will be seen from April onwards, Minabawy predicts.
Although optimistic about Egypt’s prospects, Minabawy cautions that challenges lay ahead for the industry. Years of slow tourism have led to lack of investment, while many hotels and cruise ships have closed down or delayed maintenance.
“The new challenge is financing the trade in order to receive traffic,” he says. “It could backfire if people come and they don’t enjoy it.”