While the holidays have ended in Europe and Russia snowy winters are still in mid swing. This is good news for Egypt as tourists flock to the country in search of warmer weather and luxurious beaches.
Tourism accounts for about 11 percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product and is a crucial source of foreign currency and jobs. It is one of the pillars of the Egyptian economy alongside Suez Canal revenues and remittances from workers abroad. However, it is also a cyclical industry and one of the first to feel the heat of the financial crisis.
Egypt’s tourist arrivals fell 2.3 percent in 2009 to reach 12.5 million, according to an Al-Ahram report released Thursday. The global slowdown kept more European travelers at home; and while vacationers from Gulf countries continued to flock to Egypt’s beaches, many travelers remained fearful of the swine flu.
Even once tourist rates return to pre-crisis levels; it will still take some time before revenues fully recover. As Beltone Financial put it, once tourists themselves have returned, their spending takes longer to rebound.
“Figures imply that spending is recovering at a slower rate than that of tourism arrivals, as we had previously reported, as the appetite to spend on luxury items is still relatively subdued, compared to before the crisis,” Beltone said.
Egypt’s competitive package of year round sun, proximity to European and Gulf markets, rich history and aquatic delights helped keep tourism rates constant during the crisis — the largest dip in tourism was a 13 percent drop last January — but another stabilizing factor has been the steady growth in residential tourism.
“Last January tourism was down 13 percent,” Omayma El-Husseini, ministry of tourism spokesperson explained, “Still by August it was down 9 percent. By September it was less than 5 percent. We’ve seen the numbers getting better and better.”
The Gouna resort in the Sinai and other tourist cities have sold second houses to European tourists who then return with their families for vacation. New purchases of second homes have dropped, but the revenues have been buoyed by the simultaneous drop in construction costs.
While some nationalities were more likely to stay home, others showed up in increased abundance in line with recent yearly trends. Russian tourism to Egypt, for example, has been growing by leaps and bounds over the years. Arrivals from Russia were up by more than 2 million tourists, far ahead of Germany and Italy who maintained their arrival numbers at about 1 million tourists each.
Egypt benefits from the double digit growth in Russian outbound tourism and remains the third most popular destination for Russian tourists heading abroad.
The World Tourism Organization predicts that by 2020 Russia will be the 10th most important country worldwide for sending tourists abroad.
Since tourist arrivals fell 5.4 percent over the first nine months of the year, the year end data comes as good news as it shows rapid market recovery in the fourth quarter