Dubai – Tourism industry insiders say that the political unrest in Egypt may have only a short-term impact on hotels, cruises, hospitality development and travel cancellations as the Egyptian tourism industry has seen its share of calamities over the past years and will likely bounce back once the dust settles.
The 12-day protest, which recently turned violent, cost the tourism industry $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) in losses in the first nine days as one million tourists left, Vice-President Omar Sulaiman said in an interview on state television. Winter is the peak season for tourism in Egypt when it attracts European and American travellers.
Nile cruise ship bookings have “reduced completely” and fleets have gradually stopped their trips as foreigners are evacuated by their embassies, said Osama Bushra, COO of Travco Dubai, part of Egyptian-based Travco Group, one of the largest travel companies in the Middle East.
Its Jaz Hotels in the Red Sea have seen a 30 to 40 per cent drop in occupancy, he said. “People are panicked and uncertain even though nothing happened in the Red Sea.”
Tourists have either left or cancelled travel plans in Luxor and Aswan and those left there are worried about food supplies, Bushra said. They have paid packages with vouchers for food and drink but food suppliers want cash from the hotels during these turbulent times, he said.
“Hotels have dramatically reduced their rates to attract customers through the price barrier,” said Ahmad Al Gibaly, Chairman and CEO of Online Media Egypt, a publishing, marketing and business development firm with clients in the hospitality industry.
Construction of some hotel projects in the Red Sea has stopped temporarily because of difficulties in transporting construction supplies and worker shortages, Bushra said.
Governments and tour operators took steps to evacuate their nationals out of Egypt last week on chartered and scheduled flights.
Emirates Holidays travellers to Egypt have returned home and it had “a few cancellations” in response to the situation, it said in an e-mailed statement to Gulf News.
“Due to the current political unrest, we have put a hold on selling packages to the destination. We are monitoring the situation closely and we will continue to review the best time to resume selling the destination,” a spokesperson said.
UK travel operator TUI said the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia could cost it up to £30 million (Dh177.44 million).
The Egyptian Tourism Authority took steps to assure safe and orderly evacuations of foreigners out of the country last week, a spokesperson told Gulf News by telephone.
It asked tour agencies to help their clients leave safely without any expenses, said Omar Kamel, Office Manager for the Authority office in the old Cairo Airport International.
“There were some delays of course, it is normal. There was a lot of pressure here at the airport. But all authorities are doing their best and there have been no complaints so far,” he said. Travellers from Luxor and Hurghada were taken into hotels around the airport until their flights arrived, he said.
The port authorities set up tents outside the airport to handle the crowds and they were provided with food and accommodation free of charge, he added.
Televised footage of burning buildings, army tanks on the streets, and battles between pro- and anti-Mubarak protestors will slash tourism levels, but industry insiders predict this may only be short-term.
“We have seen many dark days before, surely we will recover from this too,” said Al Gibaly.
“The tourism industry has the strongest stamina. We have seen worst things… the industry is used to crisis management.”
In 1997, when gunmen killed 58 tourists at an ancient temple in Luxor, tourism slumped, but recovered quickly and since then has overcome several disruptions.
The September 11, 2001 attacks, the second Palestinian Intifada, and a series of bomb attacks on tourist resorts in Sinai from 2004 to 2006 all led to temporary decreases in tourist arrivals, but the trend over the last decade has been broadly upward.
“We know how to get out of it, but it is 100 per cent dependent on security: if the government intelligently starts to establish law and order, then foreign media reports will show that,” said Al Gibaly.
Strong economic recovery for the tourism industry specifically is dependent on whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood will come into power, he said.
“We have to stay away from Islamic or extremist governments. We can’t have another Iran or go back into the Dark Ages,” he added.
Recovery will speed up this time because, unlike some past incidents, tourists are not the target in this political dispute, said Bushra.
“God willing things will get back to normal by summer. No tourists were wounded and that is what we’re concerned about,” said Kamel.
The industry will probably start a campaign to revamp its image after the protests are over, said Al Gibaly.
Tourism is one of the pillars of the Egyptian economy.
One of the top earners of foreign revenue, tourism accounts for more than 11 per cent of GDP and offers 2.5 million jobs in a country struggling with high unemployment.