This feature originally ran in the June 8, 2017 issue of Travelweek magazine. Canadian travel agents can subscribe for free to the magazine here.
TORONTO — When it comes to struggling tourist destinations, perhaps none has struggled more than Egypt in recent years. Since the 2011 uprising that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, the country has taken hit after hit to its already embattled tourism industry, first with a thwarted terror attack at a Luxor temple in June 2015, and then the tragic bombing of a Russian airliner in October 2016 that killed all 224 people onboard, many of whom were tourists.
More recently, three foreign visitors were injured in a knife attack at the Bella Vista hotel in Hurghada in January 2016, and just this past Palm Sunday, two Coptic churches in the northern city of Tanta were bombed, killing 27 people and injuring 78 more.
The effects of such tragedies have been devastating to Egypt’s visitation numbers, with many tour operators cancelling vacation packages and tours to the destination. According to The Independent, Egypt welcomed nearly 15 million tourists a year prior to 2011, a number that plummeted to 5.3 million just five years later in 2016. But with the dust now settling and the situation somewhat stabilizing, is Egypt now on the road to recovery?
The latest Canadian figures from the Egyptian Tourism Authority would suggest so. In March 2017, 6,006 Canadians visited Egypt, a 19% increase from the 5,043 who arrived in March 2016. From January to March 2017, a total of 16,220 Canadians travelled to the country, up from 13,220 during the same period last year, a 22.7% increase. And during the same three months this year, the destination recorded 156,623 tourist nights, nearly a 49% increase from the same period the year before (105,327).
While at this year’s Arabian Travel Market, which took place from April 24-27 in Dubai, Egypt’s Tourism Minister, Mohamed Yehia Rashed, told the Associated Press that the country’s top tourist destinations, including the Red Sea resorts and ancient Egyptian sites, are safe for travellers, remain open and that airports and hotels are secure. It’s business as usual, with Egyptian officials going so far as to aim for up to 10 million visitors this year.
Whether or not the destination actually achieves 10 million by year’s end, the point is that Egypt is on the rebound, with many experts noticing a shift in the travel industry. What was recently considered a ‘taboo’ destination is now once again regarded as not to be missed and, even more, affordable.
“We are pleased to note that there have been a recent steady growth of Canadians booking NARAT’s Egyptian product over the past two years through agencies, attributed to the market observing Egypt’s status as an exceptional value destination,” said Renata Snidr, Director, Legal & Corporate Affairs of NARAT Inc. “I would recommend taking advantage of the present value, with incredible travel deals to visit this fabulous country. Travellers can upgrade their product and facilities at discounted prices and make that dream bucket-list trip within reach.”
NARAT, which escorted the first major group from Canada post-revolution, did see a decline in product sales compared to the strong demand it consistently saw prior to the 2011 uprising. But according to Snidr, the company did not see any cancellations and only a few postponements by agencies post-revolution, which she says can be attributed to NARAT’s stellar reputation.
“I can confidently state that none of our tour participants on our Egyptian product have communicated any dissatisfaction of their tour experience in recent years. In fact, many participants have conveyed that it was likely the best time to travel to Egypt, with the scarcity of crowds leading to a better enjoyment of touristic sites,” she says.
Mohammed El Fayed, Regional Operations Manager, Middle East at G Adventures, shared similar sentiments, saying that Egypt is “safe to travel to” and that now is a good time to visit, with fewer crowds and the recent devaluation of the Egyptian pound making travel more affordable.
“While Egypt has traditionally been an expensive destination, this will create even better value for travellers and allow them to spend even more money on the ground, providing much needed business to locals who work in the tourism industry,” he says.
El Fayed went on to say that Egypt bookings are steadily growing, with G experiencing 49% year-over-year growth. This is especially promising considering the company reported an 88% drop in bookings immediately following political unrest.
The same phenomenon is happening at Intrepid Travel. In 2011, its eight-day ‘Egypt Adventure’ tour, which consistently ranked among its top 10 selling tours, fell from #5 to #61. Bookings into Egypt continued to struggle in 2016, but according to Jenny Gray, Regional Product Manager – Africa & The Middle East, the company has seen a 163% increase from January to April 2017 over the same period in 2016.
“The reality is that nowadays, there is a degree of risk wherever you’re travelling or living. It’s important for travellers to inform themselves and make the right decision for them,” she says. “I travelled to Egypt first in 2011 just after the revolution and again last month. Personally, I didn’t have any hesitations about travelling there and the feedback we’ve had from past travellers has also been that they felt safe.”
Paula Twidale, Executive Vice President of Collette, also saw “extremely strong” demand for Egypt prior to 2011, with the company running multiple departures at full capacity. But when violence erupted, the decline was immediate as Collette cancelled all Egypt tours.
The past couple years are proving to be a much different story, she says. Collette offered a small sample of Egypt tours in 2016, which did relatively well with the initial rollout. “This year, the destination is up double digits because it continues to have the allure, intrigue and historical significance that is desired by many, especially resulting from pent-up demand,” she says.
And this is exactly why the industry and travellers have not given up hope for the country. With its historic temples and ancient sites, few places on earth are as fascinating and captivating as Egypt. And though it may take another few years for it to return to its pre-revolution numbers, it’s looking like the destination is finally on the long road back to get there.