Egypt recovery making headway

Egypt’s tourism industry fell off the radar in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011, but signs of a revival are starting to emerge.

Egypt; EdfuBy Louise Wallace

Egypt’s tourism industry fell off the radar in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011, but signs of a revival are starting to emerge.

Tourists are returning to Egypt in droves with the latest government figures showing tourist arrivals shot up nearly 70% in the third quarter of 2014 compared with the same period the previous year. Total arrivals peaked at 14.7 million in 2010 prior to the political upheaval, with numbers dipping to 9.4 million last year.

But tourism operators are confident that 2015 holds all the markers of a strong recovery, with visitors from Europe and the US returning in numbers. Australians, however, have been slow to return.

Speaking with travelBulletin, A&K managing director Sujata Raman said there was “strong growth” for Egypt coming out of the US market as discount airfares and travel specials caught the eye of American travellers. But interest was still lagging among Australian travellers, she added.

“All operators are saying they’re back in Egypt and business is growing strongly, but what really surprises me is that the US is doing well and we are not seeing the same with Australians,” she said.

“This is one of the first times that I have noticed this happen as Americans are generally more cautious than Australians.”

Australian arrivals are on the rise, with A&K reporting a 56% bump in visitor numbers over the past 12 months. But Raman said the figures leave much to be desired.

“A 56% increase in growth to any destination is great, but we’re talking about small numbers and revenue is down to about 10% of what it was in the past,” she said, adding that visitor numbers had dwindled to just 100 passengers from around 1000 since 2010.

Raman was confident Egypt would reclaim its glory days. However with the Egyptian government last month pulling the pin on tourist visas on arrival for individual travellers, she said it may be some time until Egypt’s tourism industry finds its feet.

“I’m not sure what it will take for Australians to return, but I don’t think more aggressive specials will make much of a difference because price point is not a determining factor for Australians,” she said. “People need to feel that it is a stable destination and it will take time for people’s perceptions to change.”

Bunnik Tours agreed that the Australia market was slower to return to Egypt than other destinations, with European arrivals outshining Australian numbers.

While Australian bookings are still down on 2010 levels, Bunnik Tours reported a 40% increase in arrivals for the first five months of 2014 compared to the previous year.

“The European market has been the first to return to Egypt and it has come back stronger, but we are now seeing the Australia market is coming back,” he said.

Bunnik conceded that all markets were still struggling on previous levels, but said Australians were taking up discount offers. The operator also has secured “strong” forward bookings for 2016 following the recent soft launch of its latest Egypt brochure.

Bunnik was unconcerned about Australia’s subdued booking numbers compared to international markets, insisting that Europeans consider Egypt to be a short beach holiday while Australians see it as a bucket list item.

“We’re expecting Egypt to finally turn the corner, and if anything, now is a good time for Australians to travel to see the sights before the crowds return,” he told travelBulletin.

Travel Corporation brands Trafalgar, Insight Vacations and Contiki all returned to Egypt in recent months, with all operators reporting “strong growth” in interest from Australian travellers. All operators agreed that political instability in Egypt had stabilised and the country was now ready to welcome tourists.

“The time is right and demand is high,” Contiki managing director Katrina Barry said.

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