Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Egypt Eyes Faith and Luxury in 2-Year Tourism Recovery Plan - Bloomberg

Egypt Eyes Faith and Luxury in 2-Year Tourism Recovery Plan

  • New markets being targeted in India, Eastern Europe: Minister
  • Number of visitors from Germany, Middle East is on the rise

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 broader economy, which has struggled since the 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The political turmoil and militant violence that followed his overthrow have burdened government efforts to attract foreign money.

"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."

Small Upturn

Egypt has already seen a slight reversal of the downward trend it's endured for years, from tourism levels still as low as 5.4 million in 2016, according to government figures. 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.

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 prompted 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 the militant threat closer to the main tourism hubs. The three attacks were all claimed by the Islamic State's local affiliate.

Egypt is working on revamping its image to change the perceptions of potential visitors that it is an unsafe destination. Rashed stressed that terrorism is a global threat, and not just 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, he said. 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, the U.S. and Ukraine, he added.

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