SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — To say that it’s been another tough year for Egypt tourism is to put it lightly. And for the people and organizations whose job it is to promote Egypt as a tourism destination, it’s been even tougher.
Egypt’s tourism numbers for the back half of 2013 “will be low, very low,” Elhamy ElZayat, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, said at a press conference during the U.S. Tour Operators Association's annual conference and marketplace here.
The year had been going pretty well up until the summer. Between January and June, 127,000 U.S. travelers visited Egypt. Compared to one of Egypt’s best years on record, 2010, when 361,000 U.S. travelers visited Egypt, it indicated a positive trend for the first six months of 2013.
But in June, protests in Egypt turned violent and at times deadly as opposing political factions clashed in the streets, leading to the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, just one year after he was elected to succeed Hosni Mubarak. Unrest continued throughout the summer and into the fall.
In August, news media reported that more than 1,000 people had been killed in street battles in Egypt. That same month, the U.S. State Department updated its Egypt travel warning to advise U.S. citizens to defer travel to Egypt in the wake of the bloody clashes.
Several cruise lines canceled their Egypt calls, and Avalon Waterways canceled its Egypt departures.
Egypt’s tourism ministry and the organizations that support it, such as the Egyptian Tourist Authority and Egyptian Tourism Federation, attempted to do some damage control, but the damage had been done.
The question for Egypt’s tourism industry is when should they again invest in promotional efforts to maximize their return and to successfully reignite Egypt’s tourism industry. Given the current uncertainty, ElZayat said that the Egyptian Tourism Federation would not begin putting weight behind and co-marketing with travel companies that promote Egypt until February.
“We cannot advertise Egypt under the present circumstances,” ElZayat said.
Rather, Egyptian tourism officials are looking at subtle ways to boost business until they feel confident in the situation on the ground — for example, through events that highlight the country’s rich archaeological heritage, such as a re-creation of King Tut’s tomb that opened last month outside of Luxor.
Egypt’s most recent constitutional revisions were put into place on Dec. 1 and are expected to be ratified in the near future. The plan is to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014 that tourism leaders hope will usher in a secular government rather than a religious one.
Much control will remain in the hands of the country’s military, which has played a controversial role in Egypt’s recent political transitions.
While tourism industry officials are hoping the ratified constitution and upcoming elections will serve as a road map to peace and stability, the coming months will ultimately reveal whether Egypt’s days of violent uprisings and protests are behind it.
“Demonstrations will not cease magically,” ElZayat said. “Not until the new government is in place.” But, he added, “we will get there.”
Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.