While Egypt's tourism sector continues to suffer losses as a result of the country's fluctuating security and political situation, the latest Ministry of Tourism data show the decline in foreign tourist arrivals is being offset to a certain extent by Arab tourism.
These Arab visitors, from Saudi Arabia in particular, are coming to Egypt after some hotels and cafés started offering halal service.
Mahmoud al-Muhammad, a board member at the Chamber of Travel Agencies at the Ministry of Tourism, told Al-Shorfa, "The number of Arab tourists saw a remarkable increase, from 160,000 last year to 258,000 this year, including 110,000 from Saudi Arabia alone, representing over 40 percent of the total number of Arab tourists."
"Foreign tourists continue to refrain from coming to Egypt, as the figures show that only 875,000 Western tourist entered Egypt compared to 1.3 million in the same period last year," al-Mohammad said.
Dr. Hala Hakeem, a Lecturing Professor at Faculty of Tourism at Cairo University, said the numbers reflect what is happening on the ground.
"Westerners have grown wary and apprehensive about the [security] situation, and the kidnappings and lawless acts that occur from time to time," she said, adding that tours of Egypt have essentially been excluded from many 2012 tourism programmes and that many foreign companies have refrained from contracting for tours with their Egyptian counterparts.
Hakeem said the high number of Arab tourists, especially the Saudis, is not surprising in light of the election of Islamists to power in Egypt and frequent talk of sharia law being implemented in a number of hotels, cafés, restaurants, and tourist resorts.
"All this does is indicate the potential for halal tourism called for by Islamist parties," she said, adding that the call for halal tourism is bolstered by its success in a number of countries, Malaysia and Turkey in particular.
Khaled Abdul-Hamid, director of "Cairo Khan" hotel in downtown Cairo said the hotel committed some time ago to abide by Islamic standards. It does not serve alcoholic drinks and permits free mixing between genders only within families.
"Very few hotels offer similar services," he said, adding that these standards have had no adverse effect on the number of customers. "On the contrary, our customers, who are of various European and Arab nationalities, do not complain about the lack of services other hotels offer."
During a tour of Cairo, Al-Shorfa noted a number of other hotels that do not serve alcohol, such as Al-Qaoud hotel in the Manial, and the Grand Hyatt in Garden City, in addition to numerous cafés that have stopped serving alcohol in order to attract Arab tourists.
Islam Abdel Aziz, a shareholder in Muslim Café, which opened units in Alexandria and al-Banha three months ago, said, "The halal service concept was born some time ago and is premised on providing service in a manner that does not conflict with religious standards."
Shisha tobacco products of all kinds, and mixing between genders are banned in Muslim Café. Certain areas of the café are designated for young people and others for families, separated by curtains to offer each family a measure of privacy. Popular music is also missing, replaced with Islamic prayers, invocations and music.
"The café provides a smoke-free environment and does not allow overstepping the bounds of morality or religion," Abdul Aziz said.
However Mohammed Sharif, a restaurant manager in Sharm El-Sheikh, told Al-Shorfa, "Islamist parties are trying to convey to the local and Western media the impression that halal tourism is in demand by patrons and tourists, which is contrary to the truth."
"Promoting halal tourism in the media and creating the impression the Egyptian people demand it will significantly damage the Egyptian tourism sector and add to the losses it is currently incurring," he added, ruling out the possibility halal tourism will be adopted in seaside tourist resorts.
Sharif said that he expects the implementation of halal tourism will be limited to certain areas.
"I think that is the most appropriate solution, as it would satisfy all parties," he said.