Egypt said on Tuesday earnings from its vital tourism industry, stung last year by the global economic crisis, surged in the first half of 2010 after rising Russian arrivals and a cold winter in Europe gave them a boost.
Revenue jumped 17.6 percent to $5.58 billion in the six months to end-June, and the country aims to bring in $13 billion in 2010, Tourism Minister Zoheir Garranah said in an interview.
Tourism accounts for some 11 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and provides about one in eight jobs in Egypt, home to Red Sea resorts and pharaonic ruins. It is also one of the country’s top sources of foreign currency.
Analysts said Egypt’s first half tourism revenues were in line with estimates, reflecting the country’s strength as a relatively cheap destination for European travelers.
"I am happy, but we could have been doing much better. Don’t forget that especially this year in April we had the problem of the volcano in Iceland, which slowed down business," the minister said.
A cloud of ash spewed by an Icelandic volcano widely disrupted air traffic in April. Growth in tourist arrivals to Egypt was only 5 percent in April compared to more than 20 percent earlier in the year, losing Egypt about $200 million, Garranah said.
But some effects of the volcano and economic slowdown were offset by a fierce European winter, which spurred more tourists seek relief in Egypt’s desert climes, Garranah said.
"The worst period we had this year was 20 degrees." he said. "Definitely I would like to go to a shiny destination, where the temperature is over 20 when my country is minus 20 or minus 30."
Most of Egypt’s tourists come from Russia, Italy, France, Germany and Britain. The number of Russian visitors surged 95 percent in the first quarter of 2010, after a slow first quarter a year earlier, Garranah said.
Egypt’s tourism revenue dipped about 2.1 percent in 2009, compared to 17 percent in Cyprus and 10 percent in Greece.
Garranah said Europe’s debt crisis has not yet hurt Egypt’s tourism sector, but he expected countries like Spain and Greece to present stiffer competition as a weaker euro attracts dollar-wielding visitors and the countries offer more deals.
Beltone analyst Reham ElDesoki said: "We had expected tourism revenues to recover in the fiscal year ending June 2010, as the global economy recovered and Egypt remained competitive price and product-wise, compared to neighboring destinations."
She said she expected tourism revenues to reach $12.4 billion in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2011.
Tourism in Egypt has continued to grow over the last decade, despite setbacks from tensions between Palestinians and Israeli across the border, September 11 attacks, and a string of bombings at tourist resorts in the Sinai peninsula from 2004 to 2006.
More than 7 million tourists visited Egypt in the first half of 2010, up 21 percent from last year, Garranah said. He said the country is aiming to draw 15 million for the full year.
The average stay was over 10 nights per visitor, he added.
About 12.5 million tourists visited Egypt in 2009, bringing revenues of $10.8 billion, down from 12.8 million tourists and nearly $11 billion in 2008.