Central Holidays reports that Egypt tourism is having a tremendous comeback, after languishing in a trough for years following the Arab Spring of 2011. The tourism downturn was devastating to the Egyptian economy, and it was the longest-lasting setback in Egypt in modern memory. But signs of life have been appearing for the last couple of years, and now, according to Tewfik Ghattas, a board member of Sakkara GI, the parent company of Central Holidays, Egypt’s tourism is clearly on a roll again.
With the current upsurge in bookings, Central Holidays estimates its year-over-year growth rate overall at 43 percent, compared to a growth rate of 25 percent the previous year. But the company’s growth rate for Egypt is on a whole different scale. Tewfik said the bookings for Egypt are up 289 percent over last year. “Most businesses are happy to see double-digit growth. We are looking at triple-digit now.”
Surviving wide swings
The country has seen stalls in its tourism over fear of Middle Eastern tensions before, but never anything nearly as severe or prolonged as the one set off by the Arab Spring. At its peak in 2010, before the Arab Spring, tourism employed about 12 percent of Egypt's workforce; served nearly 15 million visitors to Egypt; and provided revenues of nearly $12.5 billion, about 11 percent of GDP.
In 2011, the year of the Arab Spring, the 15 million visitor number dropped to 10 million; and by 2014, revenue from Egypt’s main tourist sites had dropped 95 percent from 2011 levels. The government was having trouble justifying the expense of keeping the sites open. Nile River cruisers were chained and parked along the river’s edge gathering dust and rust. The tourism industry was on life support and Egypt’s economy was reeling.
Pent-up demand for a perennial destination
In Egypt, nearly every family has someone in the tourism industry or sees some of its income coming from tourism. Ordinary families all across the country were harshly affected by the economic slump. But now, what has been a long and slow recovery has ignited and taken off — and it is coming with a tsunami of pent-up demand.
“Beginning in January 2018, we saw that demand was growing,” said Ghattas. “Then in October, demand exploded. In Europe, many airlines created direct flights to Luxor and Aswan. The French president took his holiday in Egypt; the British Royal Family visited a month later; and CNN announced that Egypt is the number two destination for Americans.”
Tourism always comes back to Egypt. Nearly everyone sees pictures of the Great Pyramids of Egypt in childhood and most people harbor a life-long desire to see them some day. People will defer their trip of a lifetime to Egypt, but they will not take it off their bucket lists. They just wait for a more favorable time. When Egypt is off the tourism map for a period of time, demand always builds.
Egypt is the very definition of durability. The longer the wait to visit the country, the stronger the pent-up demand. And that’s what Egypt is seeing now.
“Egypt has been the biggest destination since the beginning of tourism,” said Ghattas. “In the Great Pyramids, the temples of Luxor and Karnak, the Valley of Kings and Abu Simbel, you have a lasting legacy of one of the most famous periods of human history. These monuments have drawn visitors for centuries. The history goes back 7,000 years. It’s not just a country for Egyptians. It’s a country for humanity.”
The necessity of professional guides
With Egypt’s tourism economy being such an organic part of its society, it can be quite chaotic for an outsider to navigate, which makes it important to engage competent professional services when visiting the country.
A recent article in Business Insider about traveling in Egypt said, “While the historical sights and scenery lived up to expectations, I found myself constantly frustrated by the feeling that I'd been taken advantage of by guides, that tour operators were cutting corners, or that people were outright lying to me.”
The writer could not have made a better argument for why it’s important to have competent professional guide services when you travel, and not just to Egypt. Any destination can be challenging, depending on what you expect to get out of your trip. Expert guidance can eliminate many hassles and wasted vacation time, and get you right to what you want to do.
Ghattas says that Central Holidays is uniquely qualified to guide visitors to Egypt because, not only has Central Holidays been operating in the region since its founding in the early 1970s, but the parent company, Sakkara, is an Egyptian company. Ghattas is Egyptian and has worked for decades in the tourism industry.
“I was born in Egypt,” he said. “I’ve worked in tourism for 30 years. For 23 years, I managed the largest tour operator in France. We specialized in Egypt. After the revolution, there was some instability in Egypt, but now the stability is back and, again, we have the infrastructure and the economy of tourism.”
For most Americans to fully appreciate what Egypt has to offer requires the trip planning of experienced professionals and the on-the-ground assistance of Egyptologist guides who speak American English.
Broadening the image
Ghattas feels that Egypt is due for a change of how it is perceived in the American market. The country is much more and offers much more than most Americans are aware of. Visiting Egypt is not just about seeing the Pyramids or the ancient monuments of Luxor and Abu Simbel, though those would be enough to justify the trip for most travelers. Ghattas wants to break down the marketing message to three categories.
First is history, the obvious, including the ancient monuments, the museums, the temples, arguably the richest array of ancient artifacts in the world.
Second is adventure, including the Red Sea, with its beach resorts, sailing, scuba diving and desert adventures. These are untapped resources for most Americans, who think only of Cairo, Giza, the Nile and the monuments of Upper Egypt in connection with traveling to Egypt. This region is now recognized as a top scuba destination.
The third category is religion, which Ghattas says is a much more nuanced story than most people realize. Egypt only became an “Arab Republic,” he says, after the revolution of 1952. Some of the most important early history of Christianity took place in Egypt. The Jewish religion also has important roots in Egypt because of Moses’ connection with Egypt, where he was educated and enculturated by the Pharoahs.
With the tensions surrounding Egypt’s revolution now settling down, the country can begin to reap the benefits of the social changes that were initiated by the Arab Spring. “Egypt is coming back to this area of liberty and understanding,” said Ghattas. “It was good what happened in the last 70 years, but any action has a reaction. People understand the lessons.”
Meanwhile, Egypt’s tourism industry continues to move forward. A new major museum is set to open in 2020. New discoveries continue on pace.
“Each quarter in the year, we discover new tombs,” said Ghattas. “Anyone who visits the Metropolitan Museum or any museum should have Egypt on their bucket list. It preserves our humanity, our roots as human beings.”