Egypt and Turkey consider coordination to boost tourism

Following the stagnation that has plagued Egypt’s vital tourism sector since the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine on February 24, Egypt is considering new ways to attract foreign tourists, including Russians, because Russia and Ukraine are among the most profitable. markets.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has halted the flow of tourists from both countries, which bodes ill for the tourism sector as Russian and Ukrainian tourists account for about a third of the annual number of tourists entering Egypt.

The tourism sector accounts for around 12% of Egypt’s gross domestic product and is one of the main sources of foreign exchange in an economy strained by war in Ukraine and struggling with a wave of inflation unprecedented.

Basil al-Sisi, a member of the Chamber of Tourism Enterprises of the Egyptian Federation of Tourism Chambers, told Al-Monitor that the war has led to the suspension of all tourist arrivals from the two countries.

He said Russian and Ukrainian tourists used to visit Egyptian resorts overlooking the Red Sea, particularly in the cities of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, but this has not been the case since late February, significantly affecting hotel occupancy rates in both countries. cities.

According to tourism workers, hotel occupancy rates currently hover between 30% and 50% at Red Sea resorts, which now only host stranded Ukrainian and Russian tourists while in Egypt. .

As the Easter and Eid al-Fitr holidays approach, Egypt is looking to increase the influx of tourists from Western Europe, including Britain, Germany, Spain, France, Italy and Hungary, as well as the Gulf States.

Magdy Selim, a former official in Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism, told Al-Monitor that Egypt will receive a maximum of 2 million tourists this year, down 50% from last year.

Egypt’s tourism receipts in 2021 exceeded $13 billion, returning to levels reached before the coronavirus pandemic.

According to official data, Egyptian tourism revenue in 2020 amounted to $4 billion with 3.5 million tourists, marking a 70% drop from 2019, when revenue reached $13.03 billion. with more than 13 million tourists.

Egypt had hoped that this upsurge in the tourism sector would continue this year, but the Russian war against Ukraine has cast a shadow over tourism in the country.

Egypt’s deputy tourism minister, Ghada Shalaby, told Reuters in March that Egypt was exploring ways to attract tourists again, including Russian tourists, by allowing them to enter through Turkey and then through Egypt.

“It’s one of the options we’re considering, but it’s not the only one. Our civil aviation colleagues are studying all opportunities in the face of this sanctions situation [in Russia]and we await positive news,” Shalaby continued.

Selim said cooperation between Egypt and Turkey through joint tourism packages will lead to increased travel costs at a time when Russian tourists are reluctant to risk traveling abroad as their country witnesses a war and struggling with Western sanctions.

Western sanctions against Russia are slowing the flow of tourists to the Middle East. “Sanctions would unquestionably complicate matters as credit cards, payment processors, travel agencies and other intermediaries that make international trade and travel possible cut their relations with Russia,” said Edoardo Saravalle, a researcher on the penalties.

Saravalle told Al-Monitor that the strong reaction to the sanctions against Russia, including from companies that are not actually restricted by these measures and go beyond what is required by law, suggests that the continuation of tourism normally would be very difficult.

This comes at a time when Turkey’s tourism sector is also suffering as a result of the war, with Russians and Ukrainians accounting for more than 27% of total tourist arrivals, according to data from Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The number of foreign tourists who visited Turkey in 2021 reached over 30 million, with a return of 24 billion. Russian tourists top the list with 4.7 million tourists, compared to 2.1 million Ukrainian visitors.

Saravalle believes trying to circumvent Russia’s tourism sanctions is difficult in the short term, but not impossible. He said: “We are seeing all sorts of intermediaries that make international transactions feasible suspending their business with Russia. It would be reasonable to expect companies in a sector like tourism to be more risk averse, at least initially.

He noted, “It’s entirely possible that over time such workarounds will start to work, although it will likely require some fine tuning and probably won’t fully compensate for the losses.”

Russia’s Ambassador to Cairo, Georgy Borisenko, recently said his country has been accustomed to Western sanctions for decades and can easily cope with news stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

During a press conference held in Cairo on March 30, Borisenko called on Egypt to join the Mir card payment system, which is an alternative to the Visa and MasterCard banking systems and which facilitates transfers for Russian tourists coming in Egypt in the coming period.

Sisi said Russian tourism in Egypt could gradually return to normal only next October. He said he did not have high hopes of Ukrainian tourists returning to Egypt in the foreseeable future. “In my opinion, Ukrainian tourists, unlike Russians, will not have short-term priority in travel and tourism,” he noted.

In 2019, tourists from Ukraine accounted for the second highest number of tourists visiting Egypt with 1.6 million people, a year-on-year increase of 32%.

More than 727,000 Ukrainian tourists entered Egypt in 2020, according to the Ukrainian Embassy in Cairo, representing 21% of the total number of foreign tourists who visited Egypt that year.

According to the Ukrainian Tourism Agency, 1.46 million Ukrainians visited Egypt last year, making Egypt the second most popular tourist destination for Ukrainians after Turkey.

Russia has always been at the forefront of tourist export markets to Egypt, as nearly 3 million Russian tourists visited Egypt in 2014 before Moscow imposed a ban on direct flights to Egyptian tourist destinations after a Russian charter plane crashed on takeoff from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport in 2015, killing all 224 people on board.

In July 2021, Russia lifted the ban on charter flights to and from Egypt. Since then, 700,000 Russians have visited Egypt through the end of 2021, with 125,000 Russian tourists entering the country in the first two weeks of 2022, Borisenko said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Selim stressed the need for Egypt to open new tourist markets, especially in East and South Asia, such as China and India, as well as in Latin America, by putting the focus on Arab countries.

Data from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism indicates that around 20% of tourists who visited Egypt before the coronavirus pandemic were from Arab countries.

On March 31, the Egyptian government announced a package of tourist visa incentives for people wishing to enter the country, including an initial approval of an emergency entry visa at the various ports of arrival, at provided that they hold entry visas for Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Great Britain and Schengen zone countries. Their passports must be valid and previously used.

The government also agreed on March 22 to extend the charter flight recovery program until the end of October. The program, which aims to support tourism, allows airlines to obtain cash incentives ranging from $1,500 to $3,500 per flight. While the program was due to end at the end of April, it will be extended until the end of October 2022 in accordance with the recent decision.

Sisi believes that the crisis created by the Russian invasion will be long and that its effects will weigh on the tourism sector in Egypt. He said breathing new life into domestic tourism is a “quick fix” for tourism businesses to try to make up for their losses.