After a year that many tourism experts and workers called very difficult, official data released last week shows that Egypt's tourism industry may be headed for recovery.
A report issued Wednesday (June 27th) by Egypt's Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics showed that the numbers of tourists coming to Egypt rose to around 1 million in April 2012 as compared to 800,000 tourists in April 2011, marking an almost 31% increase.
The report also said tourists stayed a total of 12.1 million nights in April 2012, compared to 6.7 million nights in April 2011, with the majority of the tourists hailing from Western European countries, followed by tourists from Eastern Europe and Middle Eastern countries.
Many workers and investors in the tourism sector have high hopes that conditions will improve even more after the recent presidential elections, and that the new president, Mohamed Morsi, will put tourism at the top of his agenda.
Tour guide Mohammed al-Rawi says he is eager to hear from Morsi about his plans for developing the tourism industry in Egypt.
"The country is stable compared to a year ago and we are ready to receive tourists," said al-Rawi, who works in the pyramid region of Giza.
Al-Rawi is among the millions of Egyptians who work in the tourism industry, which was hit hard after the country's January 25 revolution and subsequent lack of security.
Mahmoud Sami, manager of a tourism company, told Al-Shorfa that he has had to let many of his staff and workers go because of the situation over the past year.
"The company was unable to cover its operating expenses last year, especially since many of the foreign companies our firm deals with, which send us tourists from Western and Eastern Europe, indefinitely suspended their operations until the political situation stabilises," he said.
According to statistics released by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, the number of tourists visiting Egypt in 2010 reached 14.5 million, with revenues near $13 billion. But in 2011, the number of tourists dropped to 10.6 million, with revenues plummeting at least 30%.
Morsi's acting spokesperson Dr. Yasser Ali said in a press statement June 27th that tourism is high on the new president's agenda, noting that tourism will not move forward without a suitable and stable environment that encourages tourists to visit Egypt.
Then-candidate Morsi sent a reassuring message June 13th -- just days before the runoff elections -- to government and private sector companies and agencies, promising to put the tourism sector at the top of his priorities if he were elected president.
Morsi also said he has appointed several experts to explore ways to modernise the sector and remove obstacles impeding the improvement of services, including boosting land, sea and Nile River transportation networks.
Meanwhile, tourism minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour told Al-Shorfa he is optimistic and expects tourism-related activity to grow over the next six months.
"Security, stability and calm on the street are pre-requisites for tourism to regain its previous position," he said. "Our hopes are set high on peace and calm to resume after the elections."
"Tourism represents 11% of GDP and is the second source of foreign currency, as 5.4 million people work in this sector," he said, adding that his ministry plans to increase the number of visitors to Egypt over the next five years, raising tourism revenues to $25 billion a year.
In order to encourage both foreign and domestic tourism, the General Authority for Tourism Development has organised a number of festivals and competitions. Recently, it organised the "Cross Egypt" challenge, where 30 young people will compete against each other in a 2,400 kilometre motorcycle race, from Cairo to Luxor, in October of this year.
Magdi Salim, who heads the domestic tourism department at the authority, told Al-Shorfa the journey includes stops in several Egyptian cities for celebration and ends in front of Luxor's Karnak Temple.
"This initiative is innovative in drawing the attention of Egyptians and the world to Egypt's beautiful touristic spots and to encourage visiting the country," Salim said.
In addition to these initiatives, the government has undertaken several procedures including approving entry visas to some foreigners at airports and seaports upon arrival. The step is designed to encourage people to visit Egypt or to pass through the country as they head elsewhere in the Middle East.