Israel-Gaza conflict will not derail tourism, says Egyptian minister

Ahmed Issa tells World Travel Market that while some visitors may delay booking, Egypt is 100 per cent safe

The Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Egypt's tourism sector is not being substantially affected by the Israel-Gaza conflict, the country's Minister of Tourism and Antiquities has said.

Ahmed Issa told the World Travel Market (WTM) in London that tour operators are now seeing a return of normal patterns in booking and 1.3 million tourists visited Egypt last month.

"Nothing has really changed," Mr Issa said in response to a question from The National.

"The normal pattern of booking has returned over the past few days."

He added there had been some decline in the "regional products", where tourists visit more than one country in Mena region, including Israel.

"But overall they are less than 6 per cent of our total tourism."

'100 per cent safe'

Amr El Kady, the chief executive of the Egyptian Tourism Authority, was also keen to offer a positive message.

"Egypt is absolutely 100 per cent safe," he said.

"The number of visitors to Egypt in October is actually higher than it was last year [in the same month].

"Just last week, we saw many international airlines launching new routes to Egypt."

Egypt has stepped up its tourism strategy. The country’s 7,000-year old heritage, combined with world-class beach resorts, means overseas tourists contribute much-needed foreign exchange to the nation’s coffers. Indeed, in the first six months of this year, more than 7 million tourists visited Egypt, the highest number ever for that period.

In recent years, Egypt has ploughed billions into building and upgrading museums and restoring archaeological sites, including the new Grand Egyptian Museum near the Giza pyramids, which when complete will be one of the biggest in the world, bringing together the entire Tutankhamun collection under one roof for the first time.

But the Israel-Gaza conflict is "absolutely a concern" for tourism in the region, said David Goodyear, senior economist at Oxford Economics.

"Right now, we do have a lot of concerns, question marks, over them [Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon] as destinations," he told The National.

"GCC states do seem to be standing themselves apart from that. We're still relatively bullish about the GCC."

But companies from the region attending the WTM event in London were in buoyant mood, despite the potential economic fallout from the Israel-Gaza conflict.

"We have a reduced number of new bookings and some cancellations," Sherif Nagy, regional director with Tropitel Hotels and Resorts, told The National.

"The drop is around 20 per cent."

But Mr Nagy was keen to repeat that Egypt is safe and, for tourists, there was "nothing to worry about".

For the moment, tour operators to Egypt are confident that the fallout from the Israel-Gaza conflict will be minimal.

For instance, for UK package tour companies insist it's business as usual in Egypt. Some have been open to travellers postponing, but the firms are under no obligation to refund if visitors opt to cancel.

Also, travellers will receive no money from holiday insurance companies for cancellations while the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has not issued a blanket “avoid all non-essential travel” advisory for Egypt, as it has done for Israel.

Delayed decisions

Even though the conflict is happening a long way from Egypt's beach resorts, some travellers will be deterred, despite a rapidly launched PR campaign by the Egyptian authorities.

Lola Sherwin works in public relations for a luxury resort group based on the Red Sea.

"We're very much communicating that Soma Bay is separate to what's happening in Israel and Gaza.

"I understand consumers' wariness but as far as we know, there's been no impact on bookings as of yet."

Tourism revenue in Egypt increased to $10.7 billion in 2022, up from $4.9 billion in the previous year, according to the Egyptian Central Bank.

Nonetheless, purchases of plane ticket to Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon have plummeted since the Israeli-Gaza conflict broke out, according to travel analysis firm ForwardKeys.

Tickets to travel to Egypt have decreased by 26 per cent, to Jordan by 49 per cent and to Lebanon by 74 per cent, ForwardKeys said last week.

"People are delaying their decisions," Mr Issa said.

"Maybe we'll have lower occupancy levels at hotels for the next few weeks. I'm sure that come mid-December, when the late-decision-makers make their decisions on their Christmas trips, I know that the flights are going to be full again."

Updated: November 06, 2023, 5:15 PM