CAIRO, Egypt — Political unrest has not only caused tumult for the civilians of Egypt, but it has also affected the tourism industry, which is a forceful contributor to the economy. Last year, 2013, was reportedly the worst year in modern history for tourism in Egypt, according to the tourism minister, Hisham Zaazou.
Prior to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in the midst of the Arab Spring revolutions, the Egyptian tourism industry made 7.7 billion Egyptian pounds, or roughly $1.078 billion, in 2010. In 2013, after three years of consistent political strife, the profit from tourism dropped by more than half, to about 3.6 billion Egyptian pounds, or roughly $504 million.
The removal of President Mubarak deterred tourists from visiting Egypt for years. While 2011 and 2012 showed significant decreases, it was more so in 2013 where numbers plummeted. This was caused by another coup, specifically the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi, which brought more conflict to Egypt’s streets. This triggered western countries to issue travel warnings that urged people to steer clear of Egypt during this tumultuous time.
According to the tourism ministry, only 9.5 million tourists stayed in Egypt’s hotels in 2013, which is quite a plunge from the 14.7 million visitors in 2010. September was noted as perhaps the worst month out of the year, since hotels in Luxor were at 1 percent occupancy; in other places, such as Abu Simbel and Aswan, there were hotels with no occupancy. The best locations on the coast of the Red Sea did not fare much better, with about 10 percent to 20 percent occupancy.
The historical sites suffered as well, even where some of the most famed wonders of the world are located. The Valley of Kings, which is where Tutankhamen, also known as King Tut, is buried, only received a handful of visitors in 2013 on some days. This is remarkably lower than the several thousands who traveled far to see King Tut on a typical day in 2010. The pyramids in Cairo saw similar consequences, as the amount of people that visited in 2013 was at about one sixth of what it was in 2010.
Even though in 1997 there was an attack on actual tourists in Luxor, Egypt, it only took about a year for the country to regain the number of visitors they lost due to fear. The year 2013 had significantly lower numbers, even when compared to years following the tourist attack. This raises the question: why is it taking much longer for people to feel safe after political discord rather than an explicit attack on tourists?
Recent Attack Could Keep Egyptian Tourism Down for Years
On February 9, however, a car bomb exploded inside a tour bus, which was filled with South Korean tourists in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. At least four people were killed, including the bus driver, and 12 were wounded. This was the first attack on tourists in Sinai in about a decade.
Islamic militant groups are responsible for this deliberate attack, and it seems their motives lie in a desire to regain control. By sending a message to tourists that they should be fearful, their actions will create long-lasting effects that could keep the tourism industry from getting back on its feet anytime soon.
The director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Jon Alterman, described the outcome in saying, “The sad consequence for Egypt is that this takes the tourism industry and devastates it for years into the future.” This major setback is devastating in its violent nature and horrific outcome and will stifle the economy in Egypt.
Egypt’s Economic Future
There have been many harsh consequences from this attack and from other conflicts in Egypt over the past few years, including the countless deaths and consistent unrest, but there are also a myriad of other concerns at hand, which could have long-lasting effects for Egypt’s economy.
While global citizens are missing out on ancient sites, Egypt’s economy is taking a blow and those who work within the tourism industry are suffering and poverty is increasing. The tourism industry employs about 12.5 percent of Egyptians and contributes about 11.3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Local governments were giving food handouts this past December, specifically to those employed as drivers of carriages for tourists because they were completely out of work.
While hotels and officials wanted to display publicly that the industry is recovering and expected to turnaround, the lack of political stability and most recent attack will be a major interference. The country itself has been investing in tourism, even spending about 500 million Egyptian pounds, or roughly $7 million, on six new hotels and entertainment facilities. However, this might not be enough to compel people to feel safe enough to book their flights to Egypt.
Prior to this most recent attack, an emphasis on the localization of protests within Tahrir Square, which do not pertain to tourist activity, could have perhaps brought more visitors to Egypt. If travelers were made more aware of the details of the protests going on, they might be more willing to visit if they knew what to avoid. The political protests and conflicts do not seem to be letting up, but if tourists had more comprehension on the political movements, Egypt would not lose out on an industry that heavily supports their economy.
The most recent attack, unfortunately, will most likely negate other actions that were done in hopes of turning the tourism industry around. With the combination of political unrest and attacks directed at tourists, it may be many years until the tourism industry, and thus the Egyptian economy, gets back on its feet. The results of upcoming elections could bring more stability to the country and consequently help the tourism industry can build from that by enticing people with a safe environment.
– Danielle Warren