The recent attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh are expected to have only a short-lived effect on tourism flows to this Egyptian destination, in keeping with a change in the market’s attitude toward the threat of terrorism over the past few years, a development that has made tourism more resilient, according to the latest report by the Market Intelligence Department of the World Tourism Organization.“In 2001, the September 11 attacks generated fear. But recent acts of terrorism have been met more by a sentiment of repugnance rather than fear.
When faced with terrorism, the members of the society being attacked are determined not to allow violent acts to pressure them into changing their way of life,” explained WTO Secretary-General, Francesco Frangialli (pictured). There has been a shift in the security paradigm with regard to everyday life and travel, as people have come to accept higher levels of uncertainty than in past years.
“As we have been seeing of late, attacks can happen anywhere, and are not limited to foreign travel destinations. The public must not let itself be deterred from travelling, ” added Mr. Frangialli.
Egypt, like most other emerging destinations in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, has experienced robust growth over the past several years. In 1995, it received more than 2.9 million tourist arrivals. Since then, various events have exerted pressure to slow down this tourism development, but have not been able to do so. On each occasion, tourism experienced only a temporary slowdown, and went on to recover within a relatively short period of time. In 2004, Egypt recorded more than 8.1 million visitor arrivals, nearly eight million of which corresponded to tourists. The growth rate over this period, 11% per annum, speaks for itself. The first four months of 2005 showed even faster growth: 15.6% compared to the same period the previous year. Between 1995 and 2004, international tourism receipts increased from 2.7 billion to 6.1 billion US dollars.
On 23 July 2005, a series of explosions struck Sharm el-Sheikh, a world-renowned tourism destination on the Sinai Peninsula. The attack caused considerable loss of life and wounded many others. It also damaged two hotels, various commercial establishments, a bus station, and numerous private vehicles. The destination has 132 hotel establishments with a total capacity of 30,000 beds.
The initial reaction of some tourists was to go home. But as was the case on previous occasions, a significant part decided not to leave the destination and there continued to be new arrivals and bookings. “In the past few years, civil society has become aware of the global nature of these threats and have resisted caving in to them; people are tending to keep any changes to their habits and behaviour to a minimum. This has been shown following the recent aggressions suffered in different parts of the world,” underlined Mr. Frangialli.
Some analysts have tried to draw parallels with the attacks in Luxor in November 1997. Although in both cases the attacks were directly aimed at tourists, there are many elements that make them clearly different.
In the case of Luxor, the attack was national in scope; that of 23 July came within a global context that has already involved very different types of destination. It is a situation that can potentially cause a temporary change in tourism activity, and is something that can affect any destination. Counteracting this factor is the aforementioned observation that the demand seems to have become more accustomed to such attacks. This in no way attenuates the condemnation provoked by such attacks or the actions called for to respond to them. What this new attitude has done, however, is to shorten the period of recovery of tourism.
Over the past several years, the tourism sector has accumulated experience and developed greater management capacity to cope with situations like the one in Sharm El-Sheikh. Such increased management capacity, enhanced by a clear spirit of solidarity, can be seen on the part of both public administrators, and providers of tourism services.
On this occasion, most travel advisories have had the good sense to distinguish between the directly affected destination and other Egyptian destinations. They have recommended that tourists travelling to Sharm el-Sheikh take extra precautions, and very few have warned against travel to this destination. There have been no warnings against travelling to other destinations in the country. In some cases, the travel advisories themselves point out that these acts of terrorism should be understood as a global risk.
Most experts consulted believe that projections for Egyptian destinations in general should not be significantly affected. As for Sharm el-Sheikh, the short-term trend seems to point to a reduction in cancellations and a resumption of new bookings within 2 to 3 months. This recovery will be different in each generating market, and will also depend on how the destination positions itself in the market, especially in terms of perceived safety and security, prices, and accessibility. In the Egyptian market, the regional market and certain Eastern European countries, no changes relative to previous years are expected during the winter season.
In the rest of the countries of the region, if the normal pace of development of tourism is not altered, demand is expected to perform in line with the trend observed over the past several years. At the world level, no noticeable changes are expected in international tourism. The WTO Secretariat maintains the forecasts it issued at the beginning of the year, predicting an increase of around 5 to 8% over 2004 levels, barring any new developments that disrupt the normal functioning of international tourism.