Rooms filling up at Egypt’s hotels, Cairo still slow

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CAIRO: After seeing occupancy rates plummet during and after the January 25 Revolution, hotels throughout the country are starting to see rooms fill up.

While business is picking up in the Red Sea, Cairo is still seeing a slower inflow of tourists.

In Sinai’s most popular city of Sharm El-Sheikh, rates increased from 8 percent occupancy at the end of January to 50 percent at the end of April, which is significantly better considering the circumstances, said Hala El-Khatib, secretary general for the Egyptian Hotels Association.

Egypt’s popular revolution, which pushed former president Hosni Mubarak out of power, put the country’s businesses at a complete standstill for 18 consecutive days with the vital tourism sector being the hardest hit.

According to El-Khatib, on January 25, the day Egypt’s revolution began, hotel occupancy in Hurghada was at a sizable 75 percent; however, towards the end of the month it dropped to around 6 percent.

This year, according to Tourism Minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, the country’s tourism revenue will be 25 percent lower than last year’s $12.5 billion.

Although the pace at which visitors are coming back isn’t exactly fast, it is still “good” considering the recent events, she pointed out.

“Usually during this time of the year after Easter, it’s not a holiday season for Europeans which account for 80 percent of Egypt’s tourism,” she said. “It’s not a peak season, but our occupancy is increasing.”

However, not all cities will be seeing business return as usual. Cairo’s hotel occupancy will remain flat until the city sees more stability.

“We are not getting leisure travelers in Cairo, mostly business visitors, it seems leisure travelers are not comfortable coming to the city just yet,” said Caesar Rouchdy, regional director of marketing at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

But, if stability returns to Cairo and a clearer outlook of the country’s policies are put in place, the situation is bound to improve.

“Should the parliamentary elections in September go well, should security return to the streets like before, business will pick up,” he said.

Eighty percent of Egypt’s visitors are usually leisure visitors, according to Omayma El-Husseini, the tourism ministry’s spokeswoman.

Considering this year’s political unrest, Rouchdy pointed out that April was a busy month at Sharm El-Sheikh’s Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, with occupancy only about 12 percent lower than last year’s 87 percent.

“We had 75 percent occupancy this April, which is the best month so far this year,” said Rouchdy. “But, occupancy rates will drop again towards the summer and will then pick up in September, sustain, and stay there.”

On the other hand, in Cairo this time last year, Four Seasons finished off the year with about 70 percent occupancy.

This year, Rouchdy points out that by the end of the year occupancy rates for the capital alone will drop by more than half.

With an unsure political future ahead, El-Khatib also predicts that Cairo will see a slow summer and will not pick up until towards the year’s end.

“We assume by October, which is the beginning of the peak-season, the numbers will be back to normal,” El-Khatib said.

A vital source of foreign currency in Egypt, tourism constitutes 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product while employing about 12 percent of the country’s labor force.

The number of tourists who left Egypt during the last week of January amounted to 210,000, according to CAPMAS, which equaled a $178 million fall in tourism revenues. February cancellations cost $825 million.



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