CAIRO: If it had happened in Europe, it would have meant disaster. Over the last couple of years, the Egyptian government, with leadership from the Ministry of Tourism has increasingly predicated economic growth on the success of the tourism industry.
The ministry announced last year its intention to boost tourist numbers by more that 2 million visitors by 2011. This means more hotels and restaurants, better roads, more aggressive bio conservation, new museums, etc.
And then, with this transformative plan launching, the global economy foundered and sank.
For many countries in the world it would have been panic time – or at least time to curl up in a ball and weather the storm.
But as new numbers came out this week heralding industry growth in 2008, the tourism industry is full steam ahead.
The ministry announced this week that tourism revenue during the first quarter of the 2008-2009 fiscal year ending Sept. 30 were up 15 percent to $3.28 billion over the same stretch of time the previous year.
Daily News Egypt recently reported that the number of tourists visiting Egypt increased to 12.3 million for fiscal year 2007-2008, versus 9.8 million the previous year.
The goal, said Minister of Tourism Zoheir Garranah, is to increase the number of tourists visiting Egypt to 14 million by 2011. All this in spite of the economic crisis that seems to have gripped every corner of the globe.
One of the most significant influxes of tourism last year came from the US, with 319,000 visitors from the US coming to Egypt, marking an increase of 17 percent.
Despite these numbers and the aggressive, forward-looking plans in the tourism sector, there are signs that all may not be well.
First off, the Ministry of Tourism’s delay in releasing statistics has made the latest figures old – ancient in the context of the economic crisis.
An increase in tourism figures for the first quarter of the 2008-2009 fiscal year would not likely reflect much of a hit against the industry since trips are typically booked far in advance and the crisis was only beginning to set in during that quarter.
And more recent figures suggest some cracks in the industry’s foundation. Reuters reported in December that hotel bookings for January were down 30 percent from the previous year.
The true affects of the slowdown on the tourism industry may still be difficult to assess. With many tourists booking trips as far as a year ahead, there is likely to be some lag with regard to industry impact.
Despite signs of a slowdown in the tourism industry here, experts predict that Egypt might benefit from the economic crisis in ways that might save it from greater losses in the tourism sector.
Around 70 percent of tourists who come to Egypt are European. With the economy bad and travel within Europe expensive, tourists who still have the money to travel may be more inclined to pick a less expensive country to visit during times like these.
In an effort ensure that Egypt remains a cost-effective destination, the Ministry of Tourism announced steps last month to ease costs. Fees that hotels and airlines had been obliged to pay to the tourism promotion authority have been cut, Reuters reported. It is a measure that is expected to trickle down to the consumer.
Tourism, which represents 6.6 percent of GDP is critical to the country’s economy. And in a world where everyone’s looking for a bargain, Reuters reported that the Ministry of Tourism is now advertising Egypt internationally as a more affordable place to vacation.