CAIRO — Egypt’s 18-day revolution and ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak last month was a historic event for the country, but it dealt a devastating blow to the country’s tourism industry, possibly amounting to $1 billion in lost revenue.
At the pyramids at Giza, a site that prior to the revolution was normally swarming with tourists, camel handlers and souvenir hawkers were milling about last week, waiting for business.
And the Egyptian Museum, which according to its deputy director, Mahmoud El Halwagy, welcomes up to 10,000 tourists daily during the high season, saw as few as 100 people per day when it reopened on Feb. 20.
Tourism makes up 11% of the country’s gross domestic product, according to Amr Elezabi, chairman of the Egypt Tourist Authority, who said arrivals last month were down 85% from February 2010.
The estimate of $1 billion in lost revenue since the revolution is based on Elezabi’s assessment that Egypt’s tourism revenue had amounted to $25 million per day.
In the wake of a tumultuous revolution, numerous countries issued travel warnings and advisories (many of which have since been downgraded), and the U.S. government evacuated its citizens.
Tour operators canceled their February departures en masse. Only this month are tours starting back up again, and tourists are gradually returning.
And as the government restructures, the Egypt Tourist Authority is trying to strategize a recovery plan, a feat further complicated by the fact that the brand they are trying to sell, the very essence of Egypt, is changing right before their eyes.
At the onset of the revolution, the country’s marketing organization immediately pulled its advertising from international news channels such as CNN and the BBC, Elezabi said. He said when and how the campaign will relaunch will depend on how the political climate and tourism recovery unfolds in the coming weeks and months.
"Egypt’s new creative and revolutionary spirit will be translated into clear strategies and action plans to restore Egypt’s tourism market share in total cooperation with tour operators worldwide," Mounir Fakhry Abdelnour, Egypt’s tourism minister, said in a statement.
In the meantime, businesses that once relied on the throngs of tourists who made their way to Egypt each month are left to simply wait for tourists to feel secure and confident enough to return.