By Hisham Allam
Tourism to Egypt’s GDP is as vital as the Nile to its people. After Egypt’s tourism sector began to recover following the Russian plane crash in 2015. Then COVID hit, and now the Ukrainian war shot a bullet through its heart.
The protracted Russian conflict with Ukraine threatens several tourist destinations that rely on Russian visitors. Turkey, Uzbekistan, the UAE, Tajikistan, Armenia, Greece, Egypt, Kazakhstan, and Cyprus are among the top 25 countries for outbound Russian tourism by flight capacity, according to Mabrian Technologies, an intelligence platform for the tourism industry.
Egypt’s economy is also heavily reliant on tourism from Russia and Ukraine, with the two countries accounting for roughly one-third of all visitors each year. In 2015, Russia imposed a slew of punitive measures against Egypt in the tourism sector, wreaking havoc on the industry and its workers.
Due to the suspension of Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian flights, the decline has become very apparent recently, especially in Sharm El-Sheikh, where occupancy rates are less than 35 percent, compared to 40 to 45 percent in Hurghada, according to industry insiders.
Egypt’s Travel & Tourism sector’s contribution to the nation’s GDP fell from $32 billion (8.8%) in 2019 to $14.4 billion (3.8%) just 12 months later, in 2020.
Egypt member of parliament Hany Alassal stressed that the opening of new tourism markets would help mitigate the effects of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which harms the global and Egyptian tourism sectors.
“Russian tourism amounted to roughly 3.2 million Russian tourists in 2015, and it was anticipated to reach approximately 400,000 Russian tourists per month before the outbreak of war, whilst Ukrainian tourism amounted to roughly 3 million Ukrainian tourists in 2021,” Alassal said.
“The impact of the Ukraine crisis on Egypt’s tourism cannot be overlooked, especially in Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada,” Faten Ibrahim, a tour guide, told IPS.
In comparison to beach tourism, which accounts for about 90% of Egypt’s total revenue from this sector, cultural tourism accounts for less than 5% of total revenue.
“We experienced a difficult period of stagnation with the emergence of COVID-19, specifically from March 2020 to March 2021. Since then, most workers in the tourism sector have worked for half the salary,” Ibrahim says.
“I can measure the impact of the absence of Russian and Ukrainian tourism on museums and historic sites through my daily work, as the number of tourists visiting these sites has nearly halved,” she adds.
Ibrahim, who has worked in the tourism industry for 28 years, points out that the situation significantly improved in October and November of last year, but the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in December resulted in large cancellations of reservations, so the situation worsened dramatically in January.
According to WTTC research, COVID-19 sparks a 55% collapse in the sector’s contribution to Egypt’s GDP. The travel and tourism sector is also a major employer in the country, with a workforce of 1.25 million.
In 2017, the total contribution to the GDP was 374.6 billion EGP. It was forecast to contribute approximately 601 billion EGP to the Egyptian economy by 2028.
Amr El-Kady, the head of the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Board (ETPB), says that the Egyptian authorities are assisting stranded tourists from Russia and Ukraine, either to stay safe or return to their homes, in collaboration with the private sector.
“We’re going through a difficult time, but we’re handling it impressively,” El-kady tells IPS.
“It is a powerful propaganda campaign for Egypt, emphasizing that it is not only a tourist destination but also a country that looks out for its visitors in difficult times.”
He explains that the (ETPB) is currently working to open new tourism markets, particularly in Germany, England, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Switzerland, following the lifting of travel restrictions to Egypt.