Egyptian government acknowledges size of crisis in tourism
The vital tourism business in Egypt, a mainstay of the economy, plunged by between 40 and 45 percent this month and is expected to decline further, the government press said Monday, quoting Tourism Minister Mamduh Beltagui.
The Egyptian government now acknowledges the size of the crisis facing its tourism industry since the attacks of September 11, revealing a spectacular fall-off in October and a gloomy outlook, in a sector that is essential to the Egyptian economy.
"The fall in tourist activity in Egypt in October was between 40 and 45 percent," Tourism Minister Mamduh Beltagui told the Consultative Council, or Senate, Sunday, October 28, as he spoke of the repercussions of the attacks in the United States, attributed to Islamist Osama Bin Laden. The Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar official dailies reported quoted the minister without specifying if the figure referred to reservations or revenue.
"There will be a still steeper fall in the number of bookings in the months to come," the minister said, acknowledging for the first time the impact of September 11 and its aftermath, and the fears of western tourists at the idea of holidaying in an Arab country.
"You have saved my week," a hotelier from Sharm Al-Shaikh on the Red Sea admitted to a group of some 20 expatriates living in Cairo, who had come to the resort for the school mid-term break. Tourists have become rare, despite price reductions of 20 to 40 percent, as much at beach resorts as at the Pharaonic sites in Luxor or in Aswan in the south of the country.
Hotel occupancy rates had already dropped to 59 percent in September, against 72 percent in September 2000, according to the tourism ministry, and in Luxor, "the number of tourists has dropped by 25 to 30 percent," local antiquities official Sabri Abdel Aziz said in mid-October.
Club Mediterranee, which is cutting back its worldwide capacity for winter 2002 by 15 percent over 2001, has announced the closure of its operations in Egypt during that period, and was offering locally at the beginning of October reductions of 40 percent.
The airline companies have recorded spectacular falls in bookings for Egypt. Alitalia has experienced a drop of 60 to 70 percent in the number of tourists and of 30 percent in the number of businessmen heading for Egypt, a company official in Cairo told AFP.
The national carrier Egyptair has announced discounts of up to 40 percent for foreigners on flights towards tourist sites from the beginning of November in an effort to kick start its operations. The company, which in October announced temporary layoffs of 900 employees to cut costs, has recorded drops in reservations of around 40 percent.
This dramatic fall in activity is the third in 10 years for Egyptian tourism. The first came after the Gulf War in 1991, the second after the attack in Luxor in November 1997, when 58 tourists were killed by Islamists.
The security forces have since that date re-established full security in Egypt, where attacks have stopped, but the current crisis is causing fear to rise and mutual apprehension between Arab and western countries.
And although they are not well founded, the fears of western tourists who are canceling their holidays in Islamic countries are being matched in several Arab countries, including Egypt, by a rise in anti-US sentiment, expressed notably by the press and by students.
Since the Luxor attack, tourism had gradually recovered in Egypt to become the main foreign exchange earner, with record receipts in 2000 of $4.3 billion. The number of visitors to Egypt in September fell in September by 18.2 percent, compared with the same month last year, according to tourism ministry statistics.
Apart from the development of its infrastructure around its main attractions — the Pyramids, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Alexandria — Egypt has widened its tourist opportunities, developing its coastline along the Red Sea, its oases and excursions in the Sinai and Western deserts. ― (AFP, Cairo)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)