What next for Egypt’s tourism?

Egypt’s tourism industry has been one of the few success stories of the global downturn. Its excellent value, guaranteed sun and unrivalled cultural attractions have proved a huge hit with cash-strapped European source markets. But with ongoing protests, BTN looks at what the future holds for an industry that contributes over 11 percent to the country’s GDP.

In 2009, revenues from tourism came in at $11.6bn according to Egyptian Tourism Ministry, and although final figures for 2010 have yet to be released, the number of travellers to Egypt rose by 21 percent in the first half of last year.

Cairo International Airport is the second-largest airport in Africa after Johannesburg, handling roughly 16 million passengers a year. The majority, 15 million a year, are tourists, according to the Egyptian Tourist Authority.

The timing of the current protests and political uncertainty couldn’t be worse – October to May is the peak season for visitors, so there may still be many potential tourists who have now decided to look at alternative destinations.

Tour operators such as Thomas Cook have stopped outbound flights to Luxor, and cruise companies including Norwegian Cruise Line have cancelled Egyptian stops.

The situation in the popular beach destinations of Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada, Taba, and Marsa Alam remains “safe” with hotels operating “business as usual” according to Thomson.

“The curfew is only imposed in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. It is not being enforced in any Red Sea resort to which we operate. Booking conditions to Sharm el Sheikh, Marsa Alam, Taba and Hurgharda remain as normal” – in other words, if you cancel your trip, you will lose most or all of your money. Thomas Cook is taking the same line, saying “no tourist areas at the Red Sea have been affected in any way by the recent demonstrations”.

As images of the ongoing protests against President Hosni Mubarak continue to be beamed around the world, it is perhaps too early to put a price tag on the damage to the tourism industry, or a timeline for a recovery.

The Egyptian Tourist Authority said in an e-mail that while the unrest is having a “negative impact” on tourism for now, “Once (the) situation is resolved, speedy recovery is possible.”

And it has good reason. Egypt has proved resilient after a crisis. In 1997 58 tourists and four Egyptians were killed near a temple in Luxor. Tourism dipped sharply in the aftermath but had rebounded within a year.

The September 11 attacks on the US in 2001, and bomb attacks on tourist resorts in Sinai from 2004 to 2006, led to temporary falls in tourist numbers.

Nevertheless, the long-term trend has been a steady rise, and once the current power struggle is resolved, Egypt is highly likely to continue going from strength to strength.