Holiday season looking gloomy for Egypt’s tourism sector

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CAIRO: As Christmas and New Year’s time approaches, hotels in the Red Sea and even Cairo, usually bustling with tourists around the holiday season, are expecting occupancy rates to be almost 50 percent of what they were last year.

“The occupancy rate at the moment is drawing between 20 to 25 percent. We expect it to grow up to 60 percent during Christmas and New Year’s,” said Saad Hossam El Din, head of reservations at Grand Hyatt in Sharm El-Sheikh, one of the most popular Red Sea destinations.

The tourism sector has been hit hard since Egypt’s January uprising toppled president Hosni Mubarak, and the upcoming weeks may help recoup some losses. However, as bookings go so far, it might not be much of a boost.

Last year at Christmas, Sharm El-Sheikh’s Grand Hyatt saw more than 80 percent occupancy, according to Hossam El Din.

Sol Y Mar, a prominent resort in the city of Hurghada, which is just 80 kilometers from Sharm El-Sheikh, also expects to see low numbers.

“We are more of a business hotel, meaning we deal more with corporate executives coming to visit the area. We usually expect to see almost 100 percent during Christmas or New Year’s, but this year we are at about 60 or 70 percent. It is a very low turnout this year,” Mahmoud Farghaly, reservations agent at Sol Y Mar, told Daily News Egypt.

These months, however, with elections taking place over several stages and after the November’s violent clashes, the festive season is looking gloomy.

“Christmas and New Year’s will be very unlucky in Egypt this year,” said Moataz Sedky, deputy director of tourism at Travco Travel.

“We believe today everything is on pause because of elections. People want to know if there will be violence so everyone postponed their plans and ideas for choosing their holiday destination,” he added.

The company, which owns and operates about 22 Nile cruise ships and is used to having full occupancy around this season, is currently only operating nine ships.

“Mostly all bookings are old. We don’t have any new bookings, the new bookings are very minor and they are all last minute bookings received through our webpage,” Sedky told DNE.

Cultural tourism, which includes such cruise tours and mainly attracts visitors from Europe, has taken a dive this season, Sedky said.

Tourism bookings for the company’s operations in the Red Sea have also plummeted this season and due to elections, they will not be getting any better.

“The Red Sea is mainly dependent on charter flights from European cities, English visitors, for example rank as number one tourists coming to the Red Sea, especially for Travco Group’s hotels. They usually fly first to Sharm El-Sheikh with a frequency of about 60 flights per week,” said Sedky.

“This year, there are about 30 flights a week from the British market.”

British clients wish to increase their volume up to at least 50 flights, but they are monitoring the political and security situation carefully, he added.

Travco Group currently owns about 48 hotels and resorts across Egypt. Around the holiday season last year, the company recorded high revenues with full occupancy rates.

“Last year around this time, it was a booming,” said Sedky, but this year the game plan has changed.

“Most of the people staying in the Red Sea often like to visit Cairo by land, but we postponed these trips around this time to avoid any problems that might take place in the elections,” said Sedky.

Similarly, Dalia Maged, head of ticket sales at Shahin Tours in Cairo, told DNE that due to the violent clashes that began in mid-November, just before the elections, many clients traveling to Cairo cancelled their flights.

“Many of the people coming to Cairo for Christmas or New Year’s have also cancelled their flights due to last month’s events,” she told DNE.

“Flights to Luxor, Hurghada, Sharm El-Sheikh or Aswan, however, are still booked, but overall we saw about a 75 percent decrease in flight bookings.”

Flights bookings for Egyptians traveling outside of Egypt have been unaffected, Maged said.

Despite Travco’s sales hit, Sedky said they were “luckier” than most.

“We have strong assets, strong hotels and we are dealing with major international hotel operators. We also belong to the Germany company, World of Tui so we have not suffered as others in the industry,” said Sedky.

Travco has been offering special deals to cope with the recent economic turmoil. “Right now, we are seeing more short-term clients from Romania or Serbia who are making last minute bookings and taking advantage of the offers we have, but these are not our regular clients,” said Sedky. “Our regular clients are mainly from Britain, Germany, or Russia.”

Sedky also said it helps that Sharm El-Sheikh, and the Red Sea in general, were never cities where European countries issued travel bans, unlike Cairo.

"Russia banned the Red Sea for a short period a few months even after the revolution, but there were talks with our country’s prime minister at the time and he convinced them to remove it. Germany and England, however, did not ban any parts of the Red Sea," he added.

This year, Egypt expects to earn about $9 billion from tourism, down by a third on a year earlier. Last year, the country collected $12.5 billion in tourism revenues, Hisham Zaazou, senior assistant to the tourism minister, told Reuters.

“We started the year with a drop of 80 percent, then it got better through the year,” Zaazou was quoted in Reuters saying. “We expect around 30 to 35 percent less revenue than last year, which means it is going to be around $3.5 billion to $4 billion less, so we are speaking about a figure around $9 billion,” he added.

Like many in the tourism sector, Sedky hopes that the outlook for business and tourism in Egypt will change after the elections and as the security situation stabilizes.

When asked about his expectations for the parliament, for which the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafi Al-Nour Party are leaders in the elections, Sedky said whoever is in power cannot risk harming the vital tourism revenues.

“It is not about a change in policies that the Muslim Brotherhood or Al-Nour will impose,” he said. “I believe the problem is with the media, it seems that they are not very professional in handling such issues, and statements that goes abroad creates panic and worry.”

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