Egypt plans to promote religious, medical and luxury trips, and develop new markets in India and Eastern Europe, as it pushes to revive its vital tourism industry to pre-2011 revolution levels within two years.
In addition to more diverse tourism offerings, the home of the pyramids will ease travel for residents of the Gulf Arab nations through an e-visa program as part of a broader plan to boost visitors and encourage longer stays and more spending, Tourism Minister Mohamed Rashed said in an interview in Dubai.
The effort marks the latest attempt by Egyptian authorities to kick-start a sector that had been a primary source of foreign currency, and the economy economy, which has struggled since the 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The years of unrest that followed his toppling are made more dire by a series of terrorist attacks that only serve to further burden the government as it tries to attract foreign investors while appeasing a population of over 92 million straining under the weight of the reform measures.
“The final target is to get to the 2010 numbers” Rashed said, referring to the more than 14 million visitors the country hosted in 2010, its peak year for tourism arrivals. “We should be able to get as close as possible to the target in the next 18 to 24 months.”
Already, Egypt has seen a slight reversal of the downward trend it’s endured for years. But to cement the gains and stage a sustained recovery, officials plan on further promoting programs far removed from the traditional surf and sun offerings found along the Red Sea resorts, or the antiquities for which Egypt is famed.
Those options include “Holy Family” tours to eight destinations, Rashed said. To get a slice of the medical tourism industry, the country would be capitalizing on the lower cost of some cosmetic procedures in Egypt, relative to the expense in Europe and the U.S. for the same surgeries.
The road to recovery has been difficult. The 2015 downing of a Russian passenger jet shortly after its takeoff from the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh killed all 224 on board and promoted a ban on flights to Egypt from Russia that has yet to be lifted.
Palm Sunday church bombings earlier this month left at least 45 dead and dozens wounded in two cities, while another attack on a police checkpoint near the storied St. Catherine’s Monastery in south Sinai brought closer to the main tourism hubs the risks posed by militants. The three attacks were all claimed by the Islamic State’s local affiliate.
Egypt is working on revamping its image to change perceptions by potential visitors that it is an unsafe destination. Rashed stressed that terror is a global threat, versus one targeting one particular country.
“What happened in Egypt is no different than what’s happening anywhere in the world,” Rashed said. “When you talk about an incident right in front of Westminster in London or an incident in Champs-Elysees or other incidents in last three to four years, it proves that Egypt has taken the right measures to stop these people from advancing.”
The North African country is already seeing a “very optimistic” first quarter and is “well-positioned” to see the return of tourists by diversifying source markets and developing Cairo, Luxor and Aswan as luxury destinations. Germany is the top growing market, followed by the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, he said. There’s also been growth in tourists from China, Japan, United States and the Ukraine.