Cairo: After the economic losses caused by COVID-19, Egypt is hoping the tourism sector - which directly employes 3 million people, in addition to millions more benefiting indirectly - will play a major role in the recovery. Tourism accounts for up to 15 per cent of the country’s national output, and is a key source of foreign exchange.
Already, there appears to be an influx of tourists, especially from Russia and Western Europe and 100 per cent hotel occupancy is now being allowed.
Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities feels it is up to the task.
“We need to roll-up our sleeves. It’s a country, and a brand. It gives us pleasure to do our job. It is part of who we are. Tourism and hospitality is part of our Egyptian DNA. We’ve done it for years. We are documenters. We have our stories on the walls [of our ancient monuments]. That’s who we are - we are communicators,” said Lamia Kamel, Assistant Minister of Tourism and Antiquities for Marketing and Promotion.
Two-thirds of world’s antiquities
Speaking to Gulf News over lunch at the famous Mena House restaurant in Cairo, which offers spectacular views of the Pyramids of Giza, Kamel said that post-pandemic, tourism has become a major priority for the government. “Tourism [constitutes] a quick win for us [in our post-COVID economic recovery]. We have the destinations to attract tourists, we have the experience of the people working in this industry. We have the heritage. We have two-thirds of the antiquities of the world. We have warm weather; 365 days a year, we have the sun.”
Egypt will be opening the Grand Egyptian Museum, and in November will be organising a huge parade in Luxor for the 100-year anniversary of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. The government expects 2022 to be a big year for Egyptian tourism.
Kamel said the country opened up to tourists in July and has never closed since. “That shows you the magnitude of this industry and attention given to it. This is definitely going to carry over in 2022.”
Hotel sector and COVID-19
Egyptian hotels had been running at 70 per cent capacity since July due to COVID-19 regulations, but are now allowed to run at 100 per cent capacity. Kamel noted: “Our COVID-19 regulations are flexible but we are also very diligent in the application. I have seen hotels closed down because they were operating over-capacity when the restrictions were in place. I have seen people penalised as a result of [non-compliance with] our vaccination policy.” She said Egypt has hotels catering to all sorts of tourists and that it was the government’s priority to support businesses in this sector.
‘Zero tourists got coronavirus’
She added: “We are 110 million people but our [COVID-19] numbers are minimal compared to our population. We’ve also had almost also zero tourists getting COVID in Egypt. If any tourist gets COVID, we give them free accommodation, free medication, free hospitalisation. And despite us having all this, we’ve had almost zero cases.”
Future of tourism promotion
Kamel said that she, and her ministry, are alive to the importance of getting young Egyptians involved in the country’s heritage and promotion of its tourism potential. To this effect, the ministry has initiated an outreach programme. “We are seeking to build a story for our younger generation. They need to see it, to be proud of it, they need to carry it further. The system has to be there, the narrative has to be there.
“The younger people are very exposed - these are the digital media generation, the Tik Tok generation. These are people hooked to their screens. You need to show them what they are missing out on. It’s a big challenge for us, nothing is going to happen overnight. The idea is to work on it through multiple perspectives.”
Looking out for the tourists
Kamel said that her ministry is in the process of developing an app for tourists. “The moment he lands at the airport, downloads it, the tourist can book [tickets etc], see, escalate complaints if, for instance, he has been ripped off or mistreated anywhere. We have a call centre number  where people will speak to you in eight languages. We, as [the government system] are trying to be available.
“As the government, we have an openness towards our visitors so that you have access to us. Our tourism minister sometimes answers people on social media personally. I get on to Facebook, Instagram and answer people personally. This is the level of engagement we need at this time.”