Egypt’s Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli met on 1 September with the Ministers of Tourism and Antiquities, Aviation, Finance, Health, in addition to the head of the Egyptian Federation of Tourism Chambers to discuss means of boosting tourism. The meeting is among numerous efforts exerted by the Egyptian government to boost tourism as a main source of foreign currency, with the Egyptian economy presently facing serious challenges.
The Prime Minister expressed the readiness of all government departments to make the necessary decisions that will increase the number of tourists to Egypt. He added that he is looking forward to utilizing all the country’s tourism capabilities. This article reviews the global tourism situation and discusses some ideas that may help stimulate tourism to Egypt.
An Emerging Crisis
Reports by The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) show that world tourism statistics for the first quarter of 2022 have increased by 182 percent more than the same period of the previous year. The total number of tourists around the world in January, February and March 2022 was almost 117 million vs. 41 million in 2021. The figure was expected to keep rising steadily as a result of easing travel health restrictions all over the world due to containing the pandemic, and the vast vaccination coverage campaigns against Covid-19 in the tourist origin countries such as the European Union which has successfully until last August vaccinated 70 percent of its adult citizens. In addition, more and more international tourists were able to have the electronic Covid-19 vaccination worldwide-recognized certificates.
Accordingly, several expectations presaged full recovery of tourism statistics in a number of destinations by the end of 2023, especially European and North American ones, the rest of tourist destinations were expected to recover by the end of 2024, however, global tourism has been hardly hit by the Russian aggression on Ukraine in February 2022. The outburst of this crisis disrupted aviation over several areas of Eastern Europe (see fig. 1), the most of which was the Ukrainian airspace, in addition to the western borders of Russia and the southern borders of Belarus. Moreover, many airlines avoided flying in the Moldovan airspace. Also the crisis has caused the disappearance of Russian as well as Ukrainian tourists from overseas tourist destinations, as they feared not to find flights back home. This will cost the international tourism industry a loss of over $14 billion by the end of this year, according to the UNWTO report.
Fig. 1: Areas of no-fly zone over East Europe (shaded in red) and its effect on flight durations
Source: Comprehensive assessment report, European Aviation, 30 March 2022
Global Efforts to Boost Tourism
As the military conflict in Ukraine resulted in severe retreat of tourism from Russia and Ukraine, in addition to the uncertainty of European originated tourism for the coming winter season, especially with the possibility of the decrease in GDP in Europe by 2.7 percent for this year (see fig. 2) and the increase in inflation rate by 3.9 percent, tourist destinations that used to receive lots of Russian, Ukrainian as well as other European tourists, started seeking ways for making up for the decreased number of tourists due to war and economic situation.
The United Arab Emirates is a successful case in this issue. Despite the humble percentage of Russian tourists visiting Dubai annually which was estimated in 2019 at 4.35 percent of its total tourism (numerically 728,000 tourists), the city of Dubai realized the importance of benefitting from the current crisis for the interest of its tourism industry by offering incentives for Russian businessmen and the wealthy who preferred to leave Russia until security situation improves in Eastern Europe. The city received 309,000 Russian tourists by the beginning of July. It has also realized the economic crisis that hit Ukraine and its consequences in terms of reducing the number of tourists, as a result, promotion efforts focused on tourism from the Middle and Far East countries such as China, India, Saudi Arabia and Israel, in order to make up for the anticipated reduction in western tourism.
Tunisia too has been a successful story in dealing with the global tourism crisis through attracting more tourists from regional neighboring countries, especially Libya from which 815,000 tourists visited Tunisia since the beginning of 2022. Tunisia is also exerting greater efforts to attract more tourists from Algeria, especially after opening the borders last July following two years of closure due to Covid-19 measures. It has also been able to attract 400,000 tourists from European countries such as France, Germany and Czech Republic, to reach a toll of more than 2 million tourists in the first half of 2022, with revenues of over $450 million, which is 54 percent better than last year.
Prior to the pandemic, Turkey used to receive over seven million Russian and Ukrainian tourists (this is over 13 percent of total tourism coming into it). However, the pandemic health measures as well as the military operation in Ukraine have put Turkey as a tourist destination in an unclear situation; especially that Europe has banned Russian air lines from flying over East European Union countries, which cuts off Russian Airlines that used to reach Turkish destinations. As a result, Turkey focused on intensifying its marketing campaigns in Western Europe, The Arab Gulf as well as the Middle East. Moreover, Turkey since July has been attempting to retrieve Russian tourism through operating flights from and to Russian airports, which makes it easier for Russians to make travel decisions, after most flights to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern travel destinations have been stopped. This could bring in over seven million tourists to Turkey in the period from January to August 2022.
Egypt’s Urgent Measures
Egypt was able to realize at an early stage the global tourism crisis, which drove it to take measures for dealing with the unexpected situation. Strict instructions were issued by the government to hotels and resorts, the first of which was to treat all Russian as well as Ukrainian tourists kindly and respectfully until they could fly back home. The second decision made by the Egyptian government was to host Ukrainian tourists at the expense of the government for over three weeks until the Ukrainian authorities could secure safe haven for its citizens in neighboring European countries, as they have been trapped due the closure of their country’s airspace. The Egyptian government also bore the cost of their air tickets to their new destinations, which was almost $3 million. This amount was meant to be an investment in the future through showing the humanitarian side of Egypt.
The Egyptian government represented by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities had quickly launched a number of marketing campaigns that targeted regional and international markets trying to make up for the sudden shortage in tourists caused by the discontinuation of Russian and Ukrainian tourism which has reached 2.16 million guests in 2021.
The most important of those campaigns was the one called “Follow the Sun” which was launched mid March, 2022, aiming to introduce the Egyptian touristic sites and natural landscape to tourists from Germany, France, the UK, Italy and the US.
This campaign contributed to increasing the search rate for Egyptian touristic destinations on the internet by 102 percent in April 2022, compared to same period of last year.
In April and June 2022, the Ministry of Tourism launched two campaigns that addressed the Arab markets, specifically the Gulf region; the campaigns were called “Your Vacations with us, the Day in Egypt is Endless”, aiming to boost the number of guests from those markets during the summer season. The promotion videos on YouTube have gained over 17 Million views, while the real achievement on the ground is still unclear until season end results are published. It should be mentioned here that over 3 million tourists from the Arab countries have visited Egypt in 2018. That was nearly 26 percent of the total tourism that came to the country that year. (See fig. 3)
In August 2022, the ministry determined some aspects to focus on over the coming few months to stimulate tourism. The first of these aspects was preparing an international marketing campaign to be launched during the last quarter of 2022, to work for the coming winter season (2022-2023), parallel to organizing a number of grand events such as the 200th anniversary of decoding the ancient Egyptian symbols (Hieroglyphic writing), the 100th anniversary of discovering golden king Tutankhamun tomb, as well as the International Tourism Day. The Ministry of Tourism also partners with other government departments in organizing logistics for the climate change conference COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, in addition to the inauguration of the Grand Egyptian Museum, which was supposed to take place in December 2020, but has been postponed for two years.
In addition to focusing on the conventional types of tourism such as coastal tourism in the Red Sea resorts, and the cultural tourism in the Nile valley and Delta, the government aims to develop new models such as Healthcare Tourism especially that Egypt possesses most of its requirements, and the religious tourism, specifically the Christian, in terms of inaugurating the Trail of the Holy Family, after it has been renewed and developed.
However, this cannot be all, as the government’s strategic target is to achieve an income of $30 billion from tourism, annually. That makes it open for any constructive ideas to boost tourism industry. This necessitates all experts to propose more ideas that can make major development in tourism. Hereafter, we discuss some of these ideas:
- Utilizing promotion materials that have greater influence on tourists from the whole world, and less in cost at the same time, side by side with conventional social media materials such as world-known influencers who can document their own personal experiences in Egypt. In addition to offering facilitations for cinema movies and documentary makers to encourage them to come to Egypt and make their productions everywhere to emphasize the beauty of the country and its historically-deep civilization.
- Attracting all segments of foreign tourism investors, introduce to them the wide variety of investment opportunities on Egypt’s Investment Map and publishing it on the internet, in addition to marketing these opportunities within international events and conventions that investors may participate in. The government also should focus on medium and small size tourism investment. National private sector may cooperate with the government in promoting those two segments of investment.
- Government officials, businessmen, experts, as well as researchers from think tanks and academic institutions may organize workshops in order to exchange views and come up with constructive ideas that can form a short term tourism strategy for the last quarter of 2022, and the first quarter of 2023.
- Introducing new patterns of tourism, such as religious tourism. In addition to the Trail of the Holy Family, Islamic world tourists may be attracted by tours to monuments of Prophet Mohamed’s family, as well as the tombs of his companions. Moreover, educational tourism that can offer short term and medium term educational programs by universities and scientific institutions. Programs may include learning oriental languages and cultures. Also food tourism can be strengthened by organizing food festivals that introduce special foods from different countries.
- Taking into consideration the current global economic problem that has produced economically-diverse segments of tourists. In addition to the regular type of tourist that usually buys pre-set programs that include travel, accommodation and site visits by travel agents, some tourists prefer to travel on their personally-designed plan to save cost. This segment of tourists seeks low cost utilities, which necessitates providing a comprehensive network of low-cost touristic utilities to suit their financial capabilities. This has become easy to accomplish with the aid of modern technology that helps tourists to find convenient transportation means, residence, guiding services, good quality leisure activities in addition to reliable and efficient police and health emergency services.