Following a challenging few years, the land of the Pharaohs is celebrating tourism success once more, with the numbers truly speaking for themselves. Tatiana Tsierkezou writes.
Loaded with culture, character and warmth, the fascinating land of Egypt is once again rising the global tourism ranks, with the world’s travellers having had their confidence and faith in the destination restored.
In 2017, an impressive 8.2 million tourists visited the country, marking a 54 per cent jump on figures in 2016. Adding to this, Egypt’s tourism revenue climbed by 123.5 per cent last year on 2016, reaching $7.6 billion.
It seems that this beautiful country, coveted by many the world over, is back to its old self following regional turmoil and instability, and positive sentiments are flowing across the destination. Tourism movers and shakers have expressed their confidence in what’s to come, with the goal being to once again reach the 14.7 million visitor mark that was achieved during the country’s most fruitful year – 2010.
THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’
These unequivocal figures really are testament to Egypt’s undying commitment, and although restoring confidence and rebuilding its tourism industry has been somewhat challenging, targets are being met thanks to plenty of ‘moxy’ and a positive attitude.
“Things have definitely changed for the better, which becomes more evident when you look at the number of tourists that are flying in, in addition to several countries resuming their flights, as well as various investments that are coming into the country,” explained general manager, Semiramis InterContinental Cairo, Sameh Sobhy. “The latter – as well as the former – undoubtedly helped restore people’s confidence, in addition to the various promotional campaigns that have been launched over the past few years,” he told TTG.
Also expressing confidence in the country’s tourism performance was marketing communications manager, Sonesta Hotel Tower & Casino – Cairo, Madonna Habib: “The tourism sector in Egypt is starting to see the first improvements in its efforts to regain its international reputation as a popular destination. It has been receiving many positive views recently, though it is still performing well below potential and the peak figures of 2010.”
Habib shared that Cairo welcomed a four per cent increase in occupancy rates in the second quarter of 2017.
“From our position as a provider of services to the corporate and leisure travel market, we share a sense of optimism that we will maintain a good business volume for 2018,” she added.
But it’s not only hoteliers who have been noticing industry improvements. Egyptologist and former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, Dr. Zahi Hawass explained that following the devastating events of 2011, which prevented people from visiting the country, a stable government and president is one of the reasons tourists are flocking back.
“My message to the world is that ‘Egypt is safe’. In the last six years, 6,000 American tourists have travelled to Egypt through a company called Archaeological Paths; I give them lectures in front of the Sphinx and at the tombs of the pyramid builders in Giza. This captures the hearts of Americans and is proof that Egypt is safe. This is why the tourism industry is going to be back,” he told TTG exclusively.
Complementing these encouraging sentiments expressed by stakeholders are pipeline projects that are sure to change the face of Egypt’s tourism industry, streamline the tourist experience and benefit the country’s economy.
According to president, Emeco Travel, Karim ElMinabawy, numerous hotels that have been holding back on opening their doors are now rapidly inaugurating due to the return of tourist traffic.
“This has upgraded the level of hotels in Egypt generally, but particularly in Cairo. The opening of the Steinberger hotel in Tahrir square, representing the first decent four-star property in Egypt; Marriott International’s takeover of the Mena House hotel at the Pyramids; and the opening of the St. Regis on the Nile in May are great add-ons for the accommodation in Cairo,” he opined.
But it’s not only hospitality developments that are positively impacting tourism; Egypt is also strongly focusing on improving and developing road infrastructure, according to ElMinabawy.
One such example is the fully renovated highway between Cairo and Alexandria, which has helped cater for increased traffic between the two cities.
“Alexandria has certainly gained an increase in the volume of business through the easy access from Cairo now,” said ElMinabawy. “Also, the brand-new road out of Cairo heading to the North coast along with the new El Alamein International Airport, originally military and upgraded to be a civil one, will generate a good potential to this new resort area in Egypt.”
Other road-related pipeline projects include new roads being built towards Suez that will facilitate traffic between Cairo and the Red Sea, as well as a bridge between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which will entice thousands of holidaymakers between the two destinations. The latter is expected to cost approximately $3 billion and will pass through Tiran Island at the entrance of the Gulf of Aqaba.
Dedicated to improving transport, Egypt is also developing its airports. The country has heavily invested in airport security, according to Sonesta Hotel Tower & Casino’s Habib, to make visitors feel safer and more confident.
“Security at the airport is now beefed up and travellers are thoroughly searched by highly trained personnel. They also have new security machines, which have been installed at all of the country airports,” she shared.
Adding to this, in the summer of 2018, flights will begin operating to Sphinx International Airport in Giza, which is expected to reduce traffic at Cairo International Airport and increase tourist traffic to the city of Giza.
“[The airport is being] fully upgraded and renovated for civil use. It will direct healthy traffic to the Pyramids region in Giza, which lost a lot of its business to Cairo,” said ElMinabawy of Emeco Travel.
Habib explained that there are several other major projects in the works, including the Sixth of October Touristic City, worth $1.1 billion, Cairo Gate Mall ($820m) and Al Maza City Centre ($500m). Meanwhile, the Egyptian Tourism Development Authority has also been keeping busy, having launched a new winter tourism promotion campaign in Europe and having teamed up with CNN to launch a promotional campaign to promote Egypt’s fascinating tourists sites around the world.
Adding to this, the Egyptian Tourism Development Authority’s world-recognised ‘This is Egypt’ campaign was crowned ‘Best Tourism Promotional Video in the Middle East’ last year at the General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization (WTO) in China.
‘EGYPT IS SAFE’
With positive perceptions of Egypt having been somewhat tarnished of late, it is now time to move away from this and unleash the land of the Pharaoh’s magic once more. Industry stakeholders are keen on sharing their message to the world and want to emphasise that the country is rapidly returning to its former glory.
ElMinabawy told TTG: “The message that I have been sharing with many of our overseas partners, as well as all the consumer media that has visited Egypt, is that they should diversify their source of information and the media channels they have been listening to. There are still many TV channels and media sources portraying Egypt as an unsafe destination.
“While I fully respect the opinions of others, I feel it is a bit unfair to limit their source of information to the same sources, which might sometimes have a wrong impression and a classical old perception of Egypt. If today’s visitors return home with a smile and keep returning back, there is a reason behind it,” he added.
Sobhy of Semiramis InterContinental Cairo also shared his message with TTG: “Egypt should be on every person’s bucket list because there truly is something for everyone. For those interested in history, there are countless sights to see; for those who enjoy culture, once again there are numerous activities and experiences that one can engage in. Others who prefer a laid-back, relaxing vacation by the beach, that’s also available. The list is endless.”
The much-coveted Egypt has a knack for hospitality, and with an endless portfolio of cultural attractions, stunning accommodation options and affectionate locals, it comes as no surprise that tourists leave with a satisfied smile on their faces. “When I meet tourists here, I can always see that they have had the best time of their life,” concluded Dr. Hawass.