Egypt believes tourists will return after a 'zero' February

Egypt's new tourism minister pledges to do "whatever it takes" to ensure a full recovery.

BERLIN // Egypt's tourism minister has declared early signs of a revival in the visitor sector and pledged to do "whatever it takes" to ensure a full recovery.

"In the past few days, we have witnessed the beginning of a recovery," said Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, speaking at a conference in Berlin. "Charter planes are landing in Hurghada, Sharm el Sheikh. Hotel occupancy is increasing … We are determined to do whatever it takes to regain the confidence of the travellers. We will advertise, communicate, visit, give incentives," said the minister, who took office last month. Tourism is crucial for Egypt, accounting for 11.5 per cent of its economy. It accounts for one in seven jobs directly or indirectly, Mr Nour said.

Also at the conference, the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said global tourism forecasts for the year would not be affected by political events in the Mena region. The organisation is expecting 4 to 5 per cent growth in international tourism arrivals this year, with the Middle East growing at a rate of 7 to 9 per cent.

"As we stand today, we're still sticking to that," said Taleb Rifai, the secretary general of UNWTO. "The situation may be affected in the Middle East itself, and only in the immediate term. Even with regards to Egypt, the high season in Egypt is October, November and December. We will have to monitor how it unfolds in other parts of the Middle East. It will be closer to the 7 per cent."

Mr Nour said that tourism fell virtually to "zero" last month. Egypt would normally receive between 1.1 million and 1.2 million people during February. Tourists stay for an average of nine days, spending US$85 (Dh312.2) each a day. This month, Egypt expects to attract half the number of tourists it normally receives, the minister said. The country attracted 14.7 million tourists last year, an increase of 17.5 per cent on 2009. Mr Nour said the country was hoping to attract the same number this year, despite the poor first quarter. "We believe that the situation is bouncing back quicker than we thought," he said.

Mr Rifai said he expected a "consolidation" of the global recovery this year. Last year, there was a 7 per cent growth in international tourist arrivals, although expenditure was still down.

Last year "was the year when the downward trend was turned around. It was not exactly a year of full recovery. We believe that the target of 1.6 billion [international arrivals globally] by 2020 is now once again very achievable."