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Regional focus All this is scattered across Egypt like dust in a


storm. There’s Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, the big Red Sea resorts, as well as smaller seaside towns along the Mediterranean. There are dozens of hotels down the Nile, at Luxor and Aswan, where visitors come to see Ancient Egyptian tombs and temples. There’s even a boutique sector at Siwa in the Western Desert, where sophisticated travellers can hike among the dunes and sleep beneath the stars.


Above: Accor’s Rixos Premium Magawish opened in Hurghada in March this year.


Opening page: The Cairo skyline, a portrait of culture.


Since the violence of 2011, however, Egypt has faltered, and its tourism industry with it. Things have been even worse over the past year. Covid-19 has battered hospitality around the world, but in a country where millions directly work in tourism, where unemployment was already running at over 10%, the pandemic has been an even bigger disaster for the people by the Nile.


“Tourism [in Egypt] brought in $13bn and accounted for over 9% of GDP in 2019 – and then we had the pandemic.”


Kevin Graham, Oxford Business Group $2.36bn


Tourism spending from GCC nations in Egypt in 2020.


Arabian Travel Market 1.25m


Egyptians directly employed as waiters, cleaners, tour guides and in hotel concierges.


Statista 16


That dire statistic sits in the shadow of the country’s broader challenges. A third of Egyptians live below the poverty line, after all, and roughly a quarter huddle in breezeblock slums. Not that the situation is hopeless. Spurred on by spectacular new archaeological finds that are making headlines the world over, the years ahead seem far brighter. Tourism has been part of the Egyptian DNA for decades. In 2008, three years before the country’s most famous revolution, tourist numbers peaked at 12.8 million, and brought in over $10bn in revenue. And despite revolution and counter- revolution, economic sclerosis and political repression, these numbers have proved remarkably resilient – until recently anyway. In 2018, for instance, Egypt attracted 11.3 million visitors. Not that the importance of the country’s tourism industry can be measured in dollars or stamped passports alone. There’s also the benefits it brings to local people – 1.25 million are directly employed as waiters and cleaners and tour guides and in hotel concierges.


Deserted revenue In short, then, tourism is as important to Egypt as the Nile itself – how else to explain its 300 major branded hotels, over 150 more than Morocco, its regional nearest rival? Yet, as Kevin Graham explains, this leaves Egypt deeply vulnerable when things go wrong – just as it did last year. “Tourism brought in $13bn and accounted for over 9% of GDP in 2019 – and then we had the pandemic,” says Graham, an editorial manager at the Oxford Business Group, a research company with offices in Cairo. “The expectation was that they might build on that, but in reality, just 3.5 million tourists came to Egypt [in 2020] – and tourism revenue fell by 70% to $4bn [across that year].” Of course, Egypt is not alone here. Just like other


tourist hotspots, it’s been hit by lockdowns and travel bans and occupancy limits. Yet one gets the sense that Egypt’s problems run deeper than the immediate struggles of the pandemic. One issue, suggests Amr Karim, general manager at Travco Travel, is security. As Karim notes, 2015 saw a collapse in the number of Russian tourists coming to Egypt after Islamists snuck a bomb on to a chartered flight returning to St Petersburg from Sharm el-Sheikh. That year also saw the death of 12 Mexican tourists after the security forces mistook them for terrorists. Then there’s Egypt’s creaking infrastructure. The last few months have already seen two fatal train crashes in the country, and its roads and airports leave much to be desired as well. Nor is the country’s battle against Covid-19 anywhere near over – around 98% of Egyptians have yet to receive a single vaccine dose at the time of writing. If you visit a branded hotel in Cairo or


Alexandria, you’ll be greeted just as you would in Paris or Berlin. Staff will wear masks, disinfect surfaces, keep their distance – and generally make your stay as safe and reassuring as possible. As Mark Willis suggests, that isn’t very surprising given the “clear challenges” of the pandemic. And as the CEO at Accor Middle East and Africa continues, that has mainly meant implementing Accor’s global Allsafe programme across its Egyptian portfolio: for instance taking customers’ temperatures, or limiting the number of people per table at hotel bars. Right


Hotel Management International / www.hmi-online.com


Accor


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