Three years on, the country is looking forward to a busy winter season — even after a storm of negative publicity surrounding the deaths of British tourists John and Susan Cooper, supposedly from E. coli poisoning, while on holiday in Hurghada.
Room rates are on the rise, bookings are up and tourists are spending more in an industry that is an important foreign exchange earner for the government.
The Ministry of Tourism reported a 77 percent increase in income and 41 percent increase in hotel occupancy in the first quarter of 2018.
Tourism industry analysts STR also reported a healthy rise in room occupancy rates this year, beginning in January with 58.1 percent of hotel rooms filled compared to 47.1 percent in January 2017 — an increase of 23.3 percent, the highest for the year so far.
Occupancy has gradually grown through 2018. In the Red Sea resorts, occupancy in 2017 was languishing at between 30.8 percent in January to 44.2 percent in August. This year there was 45.5 percent occupancy in January, rising steadily to 56.2 percent in August.
“Since the end of 2017, tourism has improved significantly,” said Alaa Atwan, owner of Travel Solution travel agency based in Cairo. “Tourism trips to Luxor and Aswan have recovered greatly and boat owners have started getting their boats ready — something we haven’t seen in years.”
However he said that the recovery in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt’s most popular destination, was less noticeable — even if STR data for the resort tells a more optimistic story. That shows a steady rise in hotel occupancy throughout the year, peaking at just over 50 percent this August, compared to only 41 percent last year.
The deadly bombing attacks on the Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta in the spring of 2017 also dealt a hammer blow to an industry that is vital to the Egyptian economy and was still suffering repercussions from the violence of the Arab Spring uprisings six years earlier.
The luxury hotels that line the banks of the Nile in Cairo echoed with emptiness and tour guides were forced to look for other jobs. The pyramids of Giza were eerily deserted, prompting concern from UNESCO, the UN’s cultural watchdog.
Sustainable tourism coordinator Peter DeBrine said, “We look at tourism as a way to support conservation, so if tourism drops, then that could have a negative impact on the conservation of the sites. If they don’t have the resources to protect the site, that’s a huge concern.”
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the number of tourists visiting Egypt more than halved in six years, plunging from 14.7 million pre-uprising in 2010 to 5.4 million in 2016.
The government took steps to improve security, particularly in the Sinai region, but not even the discovery of a new pyramid or celebrity visits by footballer Lionel Messi and film star Will Smith could deliver a much-needed boost to tourist numbers.
More than 2.5 million of those visitors came from Russia but flights were suspended in 2015 after a suspected bombing of a charter flight taking Russian tourists home from Sharm El-Sheikh to St. Petersburg. The flights resumed in April this year, following President Vladimir Putin’s official visit to Egypt.
But while the return of the Russians as well as holidaymakers from other countries has undoubtedly helped the industry to recover, the saviors of Egyptian tourism have proved to be Egyptians themselves.
In Sharm El-Sheikh, “domestic tourism is good,” said Alaa Atwan.
In Dahab, Khaled Yousry, CEO of Club Red Dahab hotel and diving center, said affordable hotel prices were luring young Egyptians to the Red Sea resort, a magnet for water sports enthusiasts. A double room can be had for as little as 500 Egyptian pounds, or $23 per person.
“Some 95 percent of business here is from Egyptians, and most prefer the north coast at this time of year anyway,” he said.
Hurghada hotel employee Mahmoud El Sayed said despite the lack of great numbers of Russians and the deaths of the Coopers, business was the best it has been for years in the resort, which is especially popular with divers.
“But this does not mean that it has reached 100 percent of the level it was at before 2011, or even 80 percent,” he added.