While there is no crystal ball showing what the future holds for Egypt’s tourism industry, looking back at the impact of political turmoil and violence on another major destination can shed some light on the path recovery might take.
In Kenya, violence broke out in 2007 and 2008 after disputed elections. The impact on tourism was profound. In 2007, the country received nearly 2 million visitors. In 2009, barely 600,000 tourists visited the country.
At the time of the unrest, the U.S. State Department updated an existing travel warning. The warning remains in effect, although it has been updated several times since.
“The political unrest that occurred in Kenya did derail tourism,” Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five Tours & Expeditions, told Travel Market Report.
Big Five Tours & Expeditions never stopped running tours in Kenya, even sending a large group of veterinarians there shortly after the violence settled down, he added.
Other operators are entering or returning to the market: Globus will begin running tours to Kenya later this year.
“Clients are just starting to go back to Kenya,” said Connie Ebright, owner of Ebright Travel in Glendale, Calif., and a safari specialist. “It was definitely a long-term impact.”
Ebright said she currently has two bookings for Kenya - the first she’s had since the civil unrest began in December 2007.
“Tourism in Kenya is starting to make a nice rebound now,” said Sanghrajka, whose company operates tours to both Kenya and Egypt.
Visitor numbers are going up, but slowly. According to Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism, between January and August 2010, tourist arrivals numbered 701,691.
Similarities & differences
There are similarities between Egypt and Kenya, Sanghrajka said. “In both cases, election practices are called into question.”
But important differences in the two destinations suggest a different outcome for Egypt.
“Kenya has always been under a watchful eye, because of what’s happening in Somalia and what happened at the embassy in 1998,” when a terrorist bomb exploded, Sanghrajka said.
Kenya is also a bit more of a political unknown for the West, while Egypt is known for being a strong ally of the West. “People think twice about going to Kenya because a travel warning still exists for Kenya. And with a place like Kenya, it’s not for everybody,” Sanghrajka added.
With Egypt, by contrast, there’s an “insatiable demand,” he said.