Egypt Tourism Chief: Israel-Hamas War Drags Down Growth

Skift Take

Egypt won’t see a full recovery in American tourism until the Israel-Hamas war comes to an end.

American tourism to Egypt has been slow to recover since the war between Israel and Hamas started in October. That’s what Egypt Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Ahmed Issa told Skift this month at ITB Berlin, the travel trade show.

Tourism overall isn’t growing as expected. “In the first two months of the year, we’ve seen a growth of 6% vis-à-vis the same period last year. We were expecting 20%,” he said.

In October and November — top travel months for Egypt — tour operators saw mass cancellations from Americans and other Western tourists.

Egypt expected over 4.2 million tourists in the final quarter of the year, but ended up with 3.6 million. Most of the drop can be attributed to American travelers, said Issa.

Despite the end-of-year slowdown, Egypt ended 2023 with a record number of tourists: 14.9 million, according to the Egypt’s tourism ministry.

American and European Tourists Still Nervous About Egypt

Tour operators say American bookings for Egypt have been soft this year due to the war. “We are getting bookings, but it’s a fraction of what it should be,” said Kelly Torrens, vice president of product for luxury tour operator Kensington Tours. Egypt was one of Kensington’s most popular destinations last year.

“It’s better, but it has not come back to levels pre-October,” said Yves Marceau, vice president of product for adventure tour operator G Adventures. 

Demand from European travelers is healthier. “Canada and the U.S. are down the most and have been slow to recover. The UK and Europe are bouncing back faster,” said Marceau.

Tour operators with only European source markets see positive growth. “We are very pleased with the volumes we see for Egypt,” said WeRoad CEO Andrea D’Amico. The company plans to invest in more itineraries for Egypt this year.

During my trip to Egypt in late February, I visited the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx. The area was busy with tourists from all over the world, but I barely saw or heard any Americans.  My tour guide also told me American tourists have been absent.

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Outside the Great Pyramid of Giza on February 24.

The loss of American tourists is most felt in Egypt’s cultural tourism sector. “Where we’ve seen the most decline is in cultural tourism which the Americans are really interested in,” said Issa.

To keep international tourism flowing, Egypt’s tourism ministry has been offering incentives to prop up airlines flying to select destinations and reimburse tour operator marketing programs.

“We told them, listen we’re there to de-risk the product for you and here’s some incentive money that is designed to reduce the risks for you,” said Issa.

Egypt’s Tourism Sector Developments

  • Grand Egyptian Museum’s grand opening date is still TBD. Issa expects to finish installing all of its pieces into the world’s largest archaeological museum by the end of March. The museum has been estimated to cost $1 billion and has been under construction since 2013. Its opening has been repeatedly delayed. “Egypt wants this to be not only about the Grand Egyptian Museum, it also wants it to be about a whole new visitor experience at the pyramids,” said Issa.
  • UAE’s $35 billion Plan to Develop Ras El Hekma, Egypt. “Over the past 50 years, Egyptians have been going there for domestic travel. Typically there was not much international tourism there,” said Issa. “We expect this project to reintroduce the North Coast as a serious destination in Egypt.”
  • Room capacity continues to grow. In 2023, Egypt added 14,000 hotel rooms to reach a capacity of 220,000. In 2024, the country is going to another 25,000 rooms.

Skift’s Coverage of ITB Berlin 2024

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