Egypt: tourism drops slightly in 2009

Egypt: tourism drops slightly in 2009

CAIRO: Mahmoud Amr gets the call and knows it is big, the smile creasing across his lips says it all. When he puts down the receiver of the phone, he turns to his colleague and reveals big information: “we just got a deal for an Italian tour group of 50 people.” The office lights up in excitement at the deal, for Amr says 2009 was not so forthcoming with deals.

“It was a tough year for all of us in Egypt,” he began, “we had to fight for groups and tourists because they simply were not coming.”

According to a report published last week by al-Ahram, tourists to Egypt fell 2.3 percent, reaching 12.5 million. The number is still staggering, but as Tourism Minister Zoheir Garranah told Bikya Masr last summer, “we believe this year is not going to be that good, but we are confident that 2010 will see major improvements.”

As Amr points out, it already has. “Our company has already secured major groups from most European countries. The worst of the crisis is over,” he said.

Most government statistics put tourism at 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and its true impact is in the foreign currency that enters the market and the jobs it creates. Last year, however, a number of travel agencies were worried that the downturn would see employees lose their jobs.

Ahmed Makki, a tour operator in Alexandria said that while companies did not have to let people go in large numbers, the income generated was well below what they had expected.

“It was bad, but we managed to get through it,” he said. “Now, we have to hold on because we know that 2010 will be a solid year and people will begin to return to Egypt en masse.”

The ministry told Bikya Masr that despite the negative numbers for 2009 as a whole, the statistics need to be put in context. The ministry’s written statement said that in January, tourism was down 13 percent and thousands of hotel rooms were being unfilled, but by December this number “was negligible” and that “hotels began to report full bookings for months.”

This, they argue shows that the industry is back on its feet and “we should see the coming months and year as a boom and soon forget about what happened at the beginning of 2009.”

For Amr, it is a nice change of pace from the stress of the previous year. “Finally, I feel like we are back to work, instead of worrying about whether or not we would get a group to arrange and plan for,” he said.