A year after civil upheaval in Egypt put an end to Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year regime, sporadic unrest continues to cloud the outlook for tourism to Egypt.
Forecasts from tour operators, Egypt officials and travel sellers about bookings for the year ahead are decidedly mixed.
In 2011, international travel to Egypt dropped off by an estimated 33% to 10 million, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism. That was down from the 15.7 million tourists who visited in 2010, adding about $12.5 billion to the country's economy, according to officials.
This year, Egypt is projecting 12 million to 13 million international tourists, Samy Mahmoud, undersecretary of tourism and head of the International Tourism Sector, told Reuters recently.
Doubts official figures
Some consider that projection unrealistic. One U.S.-based tour operator objected that Mahmoud’s forecast was in “a fantasy world.”
“For the U.S., there is a 75% to 80% drop of business. Our figures are in direct correlation to that,” said Ronen Paldi, president of Ya'lla Tours USA, Portland, Oregon.
But Insight Vacations is seeing “some traction” for its Egypt tours, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, president Marc Kazlauskas told Travel Market Report.
“Bookings are picking up and requests for information – brochures and general calls – are the best we have seen in a year,” Kazlauskas said.
“Whether Mr. Mahmoud is realistic in his projections is to be seen, but there is some traction and interest, and I am optimistic it will continue,” said Kazlauskas.
“We are still operating our entire Egypt program, as we have many Brits and Aussies still traveling, and we have incredible offers to ensure that clients get the best value.”
At the Globus family of brands, executive Jennifer Halboth noted that although Egypt is “in a recovery period,” the firm will operate its Avalon River cruises programs this year – including featuring two new ships and a new itinerary. “
Favorable long-term outlook
Egypt’s allure for travelers makes Globus "bullish on the prospects for Egypt travel long-term," said Halboth, Globus director of channel marketing. Egypt is on many travelers’ bucket lists, so even if people delay travel this year, eventually they will make their way to Egypt, she said.
NTA president Lisa Simon said she sees Egypt’s appeal overriding traveler concerns more readily than sometimes happens in other destinations where tourism has been disrupted.
“Typically, when a destination deals with unrest and undergoes a fundamental change, operators have to re-educate the public on the basics of visiting that country,” said Simon. “But Egypt does not need to be resold.”
“While bookings have declined since the Arab Spring, I’m hearing that demand to visit remains strong. It’s simply a waiting game,” Simon said.
“Our tour operators who package the region report that travelers say they’re ready to go to Egypt, once they believe it’s safe to return.
“They are optimistic about Egypt, because along with the pyramids and other iconic sights, visitors can experience the emergence of a new democracy.
“If the upcoming elections go smoothly, we anticipate a rapid recovery.” Egypt’s next presidential elections are scheduled for June.
U.S. State Dept., Egypt Travel Alert