Special Report: Egypt sets out to tackle UK's lost appetite for the country

Special Report: Egypt sets out to tackle UK's lost appetite for the country

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Egyptian tourism officials have identified airlift and safety concerns as the key issues to reversing a '50% fall in UK tourists' since 2011. Rebekah Commane reports from Cairo and Luxor

Lack of flights, consumer fears about safety and a drop in demand for cultural tourism are holding back Egypt’s attempts to revive visitor numbers, officials in the country say.

Visitor numbers are said to have increased this year, but there is still a long way to go before they recover to pre-2011 levels.

Tourism minister Hisham Zaazou said: “We’re down about 45% to 50% in UK tourists. We used to have 1.5 million a year; we’ve lost 500,000 since the revolution.

“I need at least another 20% [more UK arrivals] this year and another 20% the year after. But we can’t do this without airlift.”

Flight capacity

Zaazou highlighted an increase in airlift as crucial to the industry’s recovery, particularly direct routes to Luxor, home of sites such as the Valley of the Kings and Karnak.

Speaking in his Cairo office, Zaazou said talks are under way with carriers such as easyJet, which pulled its flights from London to Luxor over a year ago.

He said that at one time four UK carriers flew to Luxor: easyJet, Thomson, Thomas Cook and Monarch. Now there are just two non-stop flights a week to the city, an EgyptAir link from Heathrow and a Thomson charter service.

“I want to convince the big guys to operate into Luxor again,” said Zaazou. “We had some conversations at WTM and I’d like to get something confirmed in the coming weeks and to convince easyJet to fly to the city again.”

Safety concerns

The new governor of Luxor, Mohammed Sayed Badr, said hotel occupancy in the city is “very low”.

He acknowledged a perception among potential tourists that the country is not safe, but said social media and word of mouth were important in correcting this.

“Luxor, and Egypt as a whole, is safe to come to. The police and the people themselves will protect you as they know that their income depends on tourism.

“I know people don’t believe officials when they say this, so social media and the media are very important. The message will come when people visit.”

None of the country’s tourist areas, including Luxor, Qina, Aswan, Abu Simbel and the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada, are included in current travel advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office warning against all but essential travel to certain parts of Egypt.

Pru Goudie, general manager of On The Go Tours, said: “Our passenger feedback has been extremely positive and all tours have operated without incident.

“We know how important security is to the authorities in Egypt, and as a result of the FCO relaxing their travel restrictions, our passengers now travel between Cairo, Luxor and Aswan on the sleeper train. I have just returned from Egypt on Saturday and at all times I felt totally safe.”

Red Sea focus

Zaazou said UK operators are now focusing on the Red Sea product, rather than cultural tourism.

“The problem is they lost their appetite to sell the cultural product,” he added. “Britain, 200 years ago, was our first source market, with trips to the Nile with Thomas Cook. Now our tourism is standing on one foot – the sea product. We need the other foot to stand firmly on the ground.”

He said the Red Sea was selling well, adding that he was “cautiously optimistic” for 2015.

Lack of crowds

In Egypt at the end of last week there was a notable lack of tourists during what is traditionally a busy period. But some operators say the lack of crowds at Cairo and Luxor can be a selling point.John Boulding, chief executive of Insight Vacations, who has also recently returned from Egypt, said: “The most exciting thing

is the lack of crowds. Cruises are not operating to Sinai or Alexandria yet but there are no travel bans.

“We had a slow start to the year but we are now operating groups of 15 or 20 people. Every country has a moment when it’s a good time to go and Egypt is having that now – you can see everything but without the crowds.”

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