After three years of neglect, Egypt’s tourism infrastructure is going to have to rush to play catch-up to prepare for the large numbers of travelers it hopes to attract anew.
“I have to admit that the investment to refurbish or renovate that should have been taking place over the past three years was stopped,” Egyptian Tourism Minister Hisham Zazou said in an interview in his Cairo office.
For example, the Nile Ritz-Carlton in Cairo, a 431-room property in Tahrir Square that was formerly the Nile Hilton, was originally slated to open in 2013 following a full renovation. It is still not in operation and is listed on the Ritz-Carlton website under “future openings” with no precise date.
The Mena House Hotel at the foot of pyramids is being managed by the Egyptian government and is awaiting a private-sector management contract as it undergoes renovations.
Despite delays due to lack of investments, Zazou said he was confident that Egypt’s tourism industry is turning around, that money is flowing back in and that the industry will again be ready for large numbers of tourists.
Earlier this year, he told Reuters that the country’s plan is to attract 25 million visitors by 2020. When asked if that was an ambitious goal, Zazou first corrected the year to say, “by 2022.”
But he did not feel that the goal — 10 million more than the 14.7 million visitors Egypt received in its peak year, 2010 — was unrealistically ambitious.
“This is what our current infrastructure can sustain,” Zazou said, adding that 80% or more of the anticipated traffic will consist of leisure travelers heading to the country’s coastal resorts along the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea, popular vacation destinations for European and Middle Eastern travelers.
Zazou is hoping that by diversifying Egypt’s tourism offering and putting more investment into its coastal regions, the country can grow its tourism revenue without putting so much pressure solely on its archaeological sites. But for U.S. travelers, pharaonic Egypt, which brings travelers to Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, has always been and will likely remain a strong draw.
Consequently, sustainable development of the archaeological sites will continue to be a key issue in maintaining Egypt’s allure for the 20% of the country’s visitors who come specifically for the antiquities — travelers who, while fewer in number, often represent a high-end clientele.
While the reduced number in visitors over the last few years relieved crowding pressure at the historical sites (a plus for preservation), it also compromised protection of the sites and halted the momentum for improvement projects that had been underway pre-revolution.
According to Zahi Hawass, an Egyptologist and the former minister of antiquities for Egypt, over the past three years artifacts have been stolen, and there were illegal excavations taking place in the country with little or no policing. Hawass said that large numbers of the country’s monuments have been under threat over the past three years.
Zazou acknowledged the challenges and said that plans to restart maintenance and improvements of the archaeological sites are key parts of an overarching effort to enhance the tourism experience and maintain sustainability in preparing for a rebound.
Starting with the pyramids, the tourism minister said, the government has designated a private company to clean up the Giza plateau, has invested in mobile toilets for the area due to lack of facilities, is working on upgrading the horse carriages in the area and is in talks with the local community to assign specific fees for services “to avoid haggling between the vendor and the tourist.”
“Once we witness the developments, I believe we can enlarge the scope of this pilot project to be replicated in other areas of importance,” Zazou said.