Egypt is targeting tourism revenue of more than $8 billion as it aims to attract more than 8 million overseas visitors in 2021, driven by the anticipated return of Russian holidaymakers and a revival in summer travel as the industry begins to recover, the country's tourism minister said.
The North African country hosted 1.8 million visitors mainly from eastern Europe between January to mid-May, earning nearly $2bn in revenue, Khaled El-Enany, Egypt's minister of tourism and antiquities, told The National on Sunday. In April, 525,000 tourists visited the country, representing about 60 per cent of April 2019 figures.
"I'm hoping that in the beginning of summer, with the return of the Russian, Arab and hopefully European markets, that we will reach our normal numbers at the nearest possible time," he said in an interview during the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai. "We are hoping to reach 1m visitors per month and we're not that far off."
Tourism is a key pillar in Egypt's economy, accounting for about 12 per cent of gross domestic product on average, with approximately one in five workers employed in the industry. Home to the Giza pyramids, the country also boasts various other attractions that include the upcoming Grand Egyptian Museum, new archaeological discoveries, and turquoise beaches. It recently made waves around the world with the Golden Parade of royal mummies.
The country is undertaking measures to ensure the safe return of tourists as the global industry looks to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Egypt hosted 3.6m travellers in 2020, down from 13m in 2019 due to the pandemic, according to the ministry. Since re-opening its borders in July 2020 until now, it attracted 3m visitors.
Russian tourists, Egypt’s top source market, are expected to return “very soon” with bookings already in place for June, he said.
Arrangements are under way between Russian and Egyptian government entities, tour operators, airlines and other businesses that will revive tourism traffic following agreements by the countries’ presidents to resume travel.
“I’m hoping before the summer season so they can enjoy Sharm Al Sheikh and Hurghada and the beaches there,” Mr El-Enany said. “We hope to see the 3.5m visitors that used to come before.”
Egypt has $15bn worth of tourism projects open to investors positioned as city destinations like Galala in the Gulf of Suez, Alamein in the north coast and Mansoura on the Mediterranean sea, the minister said.
“These are major tourism projects and we’re welcoming investors from around the world to participate,” Mr El-Enany said.
Investment incentives include tax exemptions, facilitating partnerships, customs waivers, government-backed guarantees of the projects’ success, enhancing infrastructure to alleviate the costs for investors, he added.
Egypt is also working on establishing a network of roads and rapid trains to connect its coastal cities with inland destinations while strengthening its domestic air travel network.
“Our aim is that every tourist who comes to Egypt and goes to Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada, must also visit the Grand Egyptian Museum as well as Luxor and Aswan, so we will increase domestic flights and make domestic travel cheaper,” the minister said.
Since the outset of the pandemic, Egypt’s central bank rolled out a 50 billion Egyptian pound ($3.2bn) package to support the vital tourism industry during the global crisis.
While the amount has not been completely used up yet, there is “no ceiling” for further funding until the sector has completely recovered, Mr El-Enany said.
In general, countries will not return to pre-crisis tourist numbers before the middle or end of 2022, the minister said.
Egypt to issue long-term visas
In response to the pandemic, Egypt has eased its tourism visa rules and created new visa categories to attract more visitors.
It added 27 nationalities that can obtain a visa on arrival, on top of the 46 nationalities that were already approved prior to the pandemic, making it possible for a total of 73 nationalities to get a visa at the airport, he said. Tourist visas cost $25.
For the first time, visitors with valid Schengen, UK, or US visas on their passport can also obtain a visa on arrival. Electronic visas will also be expanded to make it easier for visitors to apply.
The tourism ministry and the foreign ministry will start issuing long-stay tourism visas for a period of up to 90 days soon, Mr El-Enany said.
The foreign ministry is negotiating with several countries, particularly in Europe, to establish travel corridors. Egypt hopes to facilitate this by vaccinating all tourism workers in its Red Sea destinations and it will roll out an international media campaign in the fall to target new markets in the Far East and Arab world, the minister said.
It is also looking at crafting a tourism marketing strategy and investing $90m in a three-year media campaign, he said.
“I’m very optimistic about tourism in Egypt post-pandemic,” Mr El-Enany said, positing relatively low infection rates, open spaces at beaches or mountains that allow for greater social distancing and the diversity of its product offering.
“Egypt has it all, all year round, for all types of tourists, and for all tastes,” he said. “Egypt will be at the top of the destinations when travel resumes."