Egypt is seeking investors for the development of upscale tourism projects in untapped areas along the Red Sea as it pushes to revive its vital tourism industry to pre-2011 revolution levels within three years.
In addition to attracting international investments, the home of the pyramids will reform the structure and regulations governing the sector and train staff to handle the expected pick-up in growth, Egypt's tourism minister Rania Al Mashat, told The National in an interview. Already second-quarter bookings look "promising" and 2018 is expected to be "stronger" than last year.
The Egyptian Tourism Development Authority "has allocated land that we can advertise and be able to tap international investors for, this is still in the works and will be announced in due time,” Ms Al Mashat said. “It is going to be a very high-end type of project to bring in high-end tourists."
Ms Al Mashat, who held a top position at the Central Bank before moving to the International Monetary Fund, took over her new role in January as tourist arrivals have recently been climbing after the sector was hit hard by the downing of a Russian jet in 2015 and other violence. Egypt hosted 8.3 million annual visitors last year compared to 5.4 million in 2016. Ultimately the goal is to return to the levels before the 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak when the country hosted more than 14 million visitors.
The country expects to welcome “north” of eight million visitors this year as it seeks to diversify its source markets, encourage longer stays of two weeks from 10 days and boost visitor spending, Ms Al Mashat said. The country is “steadily” moving towards its goal of returning to the pre-revolution tourism levels within the next two to three years and tourism’s contribution to GDP is set increase this year beyond the current level of 15 per cent.
Its fastest growing markets are in eastern Europe, with increased interest from Ukraine, Czech Republic and Poland, as well as Asia where it has seen a 60 per cent increase in Chinese tourists last year, she said. Arab tourists make up 30 per cent of total visitors, with the “lion’s share” coming from the GCC.
Russia resumed flights between Moscow and Cairo on April 12, lifting a ban on flights more than two years following the downing of a Russian passenger jet after its take-off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, killing all 224 on board. The return of Russian tourists, who long favoured Egypt’s sunny coasts, is a boost to the North African country, which had relied long heavily on their influx.
“The numbers are quite strong, even though it has been only a week and its quite promising,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll see their return to Sharm al Sheikh soon.”
Direct flights between Russia and Egypt’s popular Red Sea resorts have yet to resume.
“Visits to the Red Sea have not been interrupted despite the Russians not going to Sharm, we have seen an increase in German tourists to the Red Sea in numbers we have not seen before, so that has been a busy place despite that, we expect that to go up with the resumption of the Russian flights,” she said.
Egypt has sought to improve airport security after the 2015 attack, investing millions of dollars on infrastructure and undergoing inspections by foreign experts.
“The resumption of flights between Moscow and Cairo is testament that our airports are safe,” she said. “The requests we get from other airlines to land in Sharm, Hurghada or Marsa Alam is another testament that things are safe.”
With its new Grand Egyptian Museum, an archaeological center housing 50,000 ancient artifacts, opening in 2019 in Cairo and a redevelopment of the area surrounding the pyramids, Egypt is highlighting its core heritage tourism but also showcasing diverse offerings.
It is talking with Greece and Cyprus about a joint project to bring cruise ships to all three destinations, targeting wellness tourism for medical trips and encouraging “daring” tourists to explore desert destinations such as the Siwa oasis with the aim for longer stays.
“In Egypt, everyone’s taste and budget can be met,” Ms Al Mashat said.