After a very harsh 2020 that was full of disasters and gloom due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2021 was a satisfactory year for Egypt’s tourism in comparison with the rest of the global tourism industry.
There is no official data for 2021 arrivals, but according to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the number of visitors steadily rose, and the demand for Egypt’s tourist destinations increased.
Air travel to Egypt also resumed from many important countries in 2021. Russia resumed flights to Egypt’s Red Sea resort cities of Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada on 9 August after a six-year hiatus.
On 9 November, restrictions on regular and charter flights from various Russian cities wishing to operate flights to Egypt were also lifted.
On 9 October, Sharm El-Sheikh received its first flight coming from London after flights were suspended twice — once from 2015 till February 2020 and once again from March 2020 till October 2021.
Despite all these achievements, challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic remain, and so, Daily News Egypt decided to dig further into the expectations of the tourism sector in 2022.
Said Al-Batouty — an UNWTO economic adviser, member of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, and board member of the German Travel Association — told Daily News Egypt that a good reason to be optimistic is that Egypt is one of the first tourist destinations in which recovery has started.
He said that the final figures for 2021 are not available, but he would expect that the number of tourists who visited Egypt during 2021 amounted to about 4.5m tourists, and it is expected that the number will increase during 2022 to reach about 7m tourists — assuming the pandemic does not develop — and if this happens, Egypt will achieve about $7.2bn in tourism revenues.
Cultural tourism will come back stronger
Agreeing with Al-Batouty, Elhamy Al-Zayat — the former chairperson of the Egyptian Tourism Federation (ETF) — is also optimistic about 2022, revealing that there is something important happening currently in Egypt’s tourism sector, which has prompted a steady rise in classic, cultural tourism.
“For sure, beach tourists that visit the Red Sea and Sinai are important for the country. Cultural tourists, however, are more important, as they use more domestic services like local transportation, visiting museums and buying from local bazaars, so the cultural tourism average of spending is higher than that of beach tourism,” Al-Zayat explained.
He also said that there is a strong indication that cultural tourism is coming back, stressing that demand for it is increasing, especially in Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and the US.
“As I know, 2022 will witness the inauguration of huge tourist and archaeological projects, such as the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), the Mohamed Ali Pasha Palace in Shubra, and the Capitals Museum in the City of Arts and Culture in the New Administrative Capital, as well as the completion of the ‘Galala Project’, Al-Alamein City, and the ‘Great Transfiguration Project’ in St. Catherine,” Al-Batouty said.
He added that the wonderful thing in Egypt is that President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s support for the tourism and antiquities sector is clear, stressing that the political will is very important in terms of supporting tourist development in any region.
Al-Batouty expected that these openings and mega projects will be quite beneficial for the tourism sector in the coming period, especially cultural tourism.
Hisham El-Demery — the former chairperson of the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Board — also praised the mega projects and events that Egypt held, explaining that these projects and events played an important role in enhancing the mental image of Egypt abroad, stressing that the country must continue in organising high-profile events such as the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade and the reopening of Luxor’s Sphinx Avenue while ensuring wide media coverage.
Furthermore, Al-Zayat expected the Red Sea cities to remain hotspots in terms of the number of tourists.
He also expected cultural tourism to come back stronger, predicting that Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, and Nile Cruise trips will be hot spots in terms of average spending as well.
“This is my own prediction, but I am not the boss, I don’t know what is happening, but I predict that the GEM will be inaugurated on 4 November, as it is the date of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun; or 22 November, as the tomb was opened then in the presence of lord Carnarvon,” Al-Zayat said.
“So, after November 2022, I think cultural tourism will grow in an unexpected way as the GEM will attract the world.”
He also noted that 2022 will mark the 200th anniversary of the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone and, consequently, Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
“I think if these events were well programmed and advertised, the numbers can increase much faster, because legacy airlines — if there is a demand — will increase the number of flights, and this will set us up for a great 2022, 2023, and 2024,” he added.
October, November, December will be peak months
Additionally, El-Demery told Daily News Egypt that the country might struggle a little in the winter months — January to April. He assured that this struggle will not be due to a failing on Egypt’s part, but rather it is dependent on the COVID-19 situation globally.
He also explained that the pandemic will change the tourism seasons of Egypt, explaining that tourism rates will begin to pick up in May, when Arab tourists come to Egypt, followed by even higher rates from October to December, as global tourism activity picks up due to the lower number of COVID infections globally in that period.
Higher influx of Russian tourists expected in 2022
El-Demery also said that before 2014, only four markets — namely Russia, Germany, the UK, and Italy — made up more than 75% of Egypt’s annual tourism revenues.
However, since 2015, after the Russian ban, Egypt began to attract non-traditional markets, including visitors from Ukraine and Poland.
So, in 2022, El-Demery, Al-Zayat, and Al-Batouty expect that there will be a higher influx of Russian tourists in Egypt.
Moreover, Al-Batouty expects that the number of Russian tourists will rank the highest during 2022 and that Germans will come in second place.
“Meanwhile, Germans will remain number one in terms of spending and benefitting the national economy,” according to Al-Batouty.
Al-Zayat explained that he expects Russians to rank first in terms of numbers, because Egypt is attractive for them, as they are very price conscious and do not like to travel long distances, and winter destinations are very limited.
He expects the British to come in second place, followed by Germans, and Italians in fourth place, in terms of numbers.
Diversifying markets is a must
El-Demery also stressed the need to continue diversifying markets by conducting research and opening new markets, as after the pandemic, the whole world is suffering economically, so depending on a few markets is risky.
“I think it’s time to change and focus on quality tourism, as mass tourism is not feasible anymore because travel is no longer affordable for all as it used to be,” El- Demery said.
He added that by focusing on various markets — even if the numbers from every market are small — Egypt will have tourists all-year-round, as travel seasons differ from country to country.
El- Demery also stressed that diversifying markets will reduce the risk of depending on one market, bearing in mind that traditional markets have suffered the most economically during the pandemic.
Expectations for a real recovery are still cautious
Al-Zayat believes that the return of Russian tourists will have a huge impact on the country’s tourism sector and that 2022 will witness much development in that regard, but not at the level of 2010.
It is worth noting that 2010 was a peak year for Egypt’s tourism in terms of the number of tourists, which amounted to 14.7m, while 2019 was a peak year for Egypt in terms of tourism revenues, when the country recorded $13.03bn — the highest in the sector’s history.
Al-Zayat said that Egypt’s tourism will not recover to 2010’s levels before 2024.
He explained that this was due to the lack of trust and uncertainty people feel regarding travel. This sentiment remains in spite of the worldwide vaccination programmes against the virus, with many travellers still not confident enough to pack their bags due to the economic consequences of the pandemic.
“This is also because legacy carriers or airlines are not expected to return to 2019 standards or capacities until 2024,” Al-Zayat said.
“Once airlines start improving the frequency of their flights, we will have more tourists. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), by 2024, the number of seats offered on airlines will jump back up to 70% instead of the current 30%.”
Meanwhile, El- Demery and Al-Zayat praised a government decree that was issued in April to set a minimum accommodation price for four- and five-star hotels, as this will positively impact revenues and create a tourism product that has a very high marketing value and good returns in the short term.
The decree stipulates that the minimum price for accommodations for an individual per night is set at $40 in five-star hotels and $28 in four-star hotels. The decree has been in effect since 1 November.
Egypt is not an exception
For his part, Mohamed Kaoud— the President of the Tourism Committee of the Egyptian Junior Business Association and the CEO of Egyliere Travel — said that while thinking about Egypt, we must compare it to the global situation, as we are not an exception.
He told Daily News Egypt that according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, global overseas arrivals in 2022 will be 30% lower than in 2019.
Kaoud further explained that international arrivals in the region are down by 39.5% from the previous year. In terms of foreign arrivals, Europe and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will have similar recovery paths, with 31% and 33% of 2019 levels expected, respectively.
He added that Egypt represents 12.8 percent of all travel coming to MENA when segmented by geography.
Kaoud also said that across all segments of the travel and tourism industry, huge international players are competing fiercely with one another and with numerous smaller independent players. This heightens rivalry.
He praised that the Egyptian travel and tourism sector is made up of both B2B and B2C markets and industries. Over 92% of the entirety of Egypt’s travel and tourism industry’s value is accounted for by the foodservice, airline, and hotels and motels divisions.
Kaoud expected that while vaccine rollouts in the US and other rich countries have opened certain borders, international arrivals are unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.
“Major events will promote international tourism in 2022, but international business travel will remain depressed, as companies avoid putting their staff in danger,” he said.
“Many businesses will postpone business travel to save money and reduce their carbon footprint. However, some travel will be necessary to bolster relationships with clients and to shore up shaky supply chains.”
Al-Batouty said that expectations for real recovery are still cautious, as the UNWTO Expert Committee is divided, and its outlook is mixed.
He explained that the UNWTO’s scenarios indicate that it may take two and a half to three years for international tourism to return to 2019 levels.
At the same time, he explained that it is expected that the gradual deployment of COVID-19 vaccines will help restore the confidence of tourism consumers and contribute to easing travel restrictions and freedom of movement over the next two years.
“Recovery will be faster in some destinations — such as the Middle East, Africa, some European Regions on the Mediterranean, and Islands in the Atlantic and Pacific — while it will be slower in other destinations, which will not see real recovery before the end of 2022,” Al-Batouty said.
He explained that leisure tourism is expected to recover faster than cultural and city tourism, Meetings-Incentives-Conferences-Exhibitions (MICE), and other types of tourism.
Egyptian travel and tourism revenues are expected to climb to $19.2bn in 2025, up by 88.2%from 2020, Kaoud said, noting that in 2020, the Egyptian travel and tourism business shrank by 46.1% to $10.2bn.
He stressed that the global outbreak of the pandemic wreaked havoc on the sector, resulting in a 46.1% drop in 2020, an all-time low.
“The pandemic has resulted in the closure of many hotels and motels around the country as well as a drop in revenues for the business. In 2020, many smaller, independent businesses were unable to stay afloat due to the economic downturn, resulting in a 2.8% drop in the number of businesses,” Kaoud said.
He added that the industry’s growth is likely to increase, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.5% predicted from 2020 to 2025, bringing the industry’s value to $19.2bn by the end of the period.
In comparison, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s industries would increase at CAGRs of 24.4% and 29.2% over the same time span, respectively, reaching $75bn and $96.8bn in 2025.
Furthermore, Kaoud predicted that over the next few years, the industry is likely to recover owing to a comeback in tourism, as travel restrictions throughout the world are eliminated.