Tourism raises the white flag

Basma Ragab
5 Min Read
Slow down of tourism reflects on income of the Ministry of Antiquities (Photo from Ministry of Antiquities

The Russian plane crash in October 2015 brought a tourism sector, that had been teetering on the edge of crisis for the past five years, to near collapse.

Last November during a cabinet meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh, the government announced measures to prop up the tourism sector, postponing the insurance and electricity dues for six months. The sector’s workers said however that the postponement period does not exceed the initial three months.

In what follows, Daily News Egypt observes the losses and ambitions in the tourism sector ranging from the Papyrus Fund’s support to struggling companies, to the establishment of a charter airline, and the struggle of the sector’s workers.

Protracted decline in tourism sector forced antiquities organisational body to plunge into debt

The Ministry of Antiquities’ debts to the Ministry of Finance and contracting companies were reported at EGP 4bn in mid-December 2015 compared to the close of 2014 when the debt was reported at EGP 3.7bn. The ministry’s revenues retreated from EGP 1.273bn in 2010 to EGP 229.8m in 2014.

Director of the Central Administration of the Antiquities of the northern governorates, Sinai, and the north coast Youssef Khalifa said the effects of the low arrival rates to Egypt in the past five years did not stop with the hotel and resort sector but have affected the income of the Ministry of Antiquities as well.

The negative impact resulted in halting the restoration works in temples, and construction work in the new museums, as well as excavation for monuments. It also affected the fund directed to developing the museums’ storerooms.

He said the projects of Sharm El-Sheikh and Arish Museums are among the projects that were suspended recently as a result of the recent incidents.

According to Khalifa, the ministry needs about 5,000 security personnel to secure excavation sites, museums, and storerooms and that the ministry cannot pay the salaries of this needed increase in staff.

Head of the development of archaeological sites, Ahmed Motawea, said that body charged with overseeing the antiquities sector, now the Ministry of Antiquities after its conversion from a supreme council in February 2011, became a self-financed entity. As such, it depends on the income coming from visiting museums and archaeological sites only. This led to financial difficulties for the ministry, in light of the decline of tourism in the past five years.

Motawea believes that tourism began to recover at the beginning of 2015; however, the recent rash of incidents has damaged tourist confidence.

He said there are temporary alternatives to overcome the lack of funding and to finalise a number of antiquity projects. These alternatives include coordinating with funding organisations to acquire financial support for the halted projects.

“Coordination with the European Union is currently taking place to support antiquity projects”, Motawea said. “Over the past few months, cooperation protocols were signed with other institutions and organisations to contribute in the ministry’s projects.”

An official said that most antiquity projects operate in accordance with the timetable and that 14 projects were finalised over 2015.

The official further explained that the tourism related to antiquity sites has been the most affected over the past five years compared to coastal tourism in the Red Sea area.

For the first time, Unesco has contributed financially in cooperation with Italian government with a grant totalling €800,000. The grant is to develop the restoration laboratory at the Museum of Islamic Art.

The annual report, which was issued by the Ministry of Antiquities, reported that during 2015, five projects were issued for developing including the project of excavation and development of the southern side of Old Cairo’s north wall and the rehabilitation of the wall’s northern side. This project will cost EGP 20m.

The planned projects also include a restoration and development project for both eastern and northern walls of Old Cairo, with EGP 180m allocated budget by the Ministry of Housing.

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