Egypt Expects Tourism Increase Despite Clashes

February 6, 2012

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Egypt's Ministry of Tourism hopes to see a recovery in tourist numbers to between 12 and 13 million this year, bringing in USD$11 billion, despite ongoing street violence and more than 70 deaths after a football match riot last week.

Last year's popular uprising, which forced out President Hosni Mubarak, brought much of Egypt's economy to a halt, slashed tourism revenue and prompted overseas warnings against visiting its Red Sea and Mediterranean leisure destinations.

"The future of tourism in Egypt will be great," Samy Mahmoud, undersecretary of Egypt's Ministry of Tourism and head of the International Tourism Sector, said in an interview in Dubai.

He said figures from last year were not yet available, but added that 15.7 million tourists visited Egypt in 2010, adding around USD$12.5 billion to the country's economy.

Cairo, home to the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and the 14th century Khan el-Khalili market, was rocked again on Sunday by protesters demanding a swift presidential election and an early handover of power by the army.

They hurled rocks at police guarding the Egyptian interior ministry and were forced back with volleys of tear gas.

"Seventy-five percent of total tourist arrivals to Egypt are going to Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada and Marsa Alam. These places are very safe. Only about 25 percent are coming to Cairo," he said.

Mahmoud said he expected rising visitor numbers from Russia, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the Gulf Arab region.

A senior assistant to the tourism minister said in December Egypt expected to earn about USD$9 billion from tourism in 2011, down by about a third on a year earlier.

With its pharaonic antiquities and year-round warm beaches, Egypt relies on tourism as its biggest foreign currency earner, source of over a tenth of gross domestic product. It provides one in eight jobs in a country beset by high unemployment.

On Thursday, fans rioted after a match in Port Said when the local team al-Masry beat Al Ahli, one of the country's most successful clubs. At least 74 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

Asked about what the authorities could do to convince tourists that Egypt was safe, Mahmoud said: "By the end of June we will have a president and a strong government. This will boost tourism in Egypt."

The military council, which took charge when former President Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising, has promised to hand power to civilians by the end of June after an election.

The Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party secured almost half the seats in the first election since Mubarak's ouster, is now under pressure to use its newly won parliamentary power to help restore order.

Asked whether he thought Egypt's new government was doing enough to promote tourism, Mahmoud said: "Of course. We have good security and a good system. Tourism will be the future for the economy of Egypt."

(Reuters)