By Noemí Jabois
Marsa Matruh, Egypt, Jun 27 (efe-epa).- Egypt’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled al-Anany said his country expected a marvelous 2020 after tourist numbers rose in 2019 and now hopes visitors will return in July.
During an interview with Efe, the minister said that markets will determine how long it will take the sector in Egypt, which boasts beaches on both the Mediterranean and Red seas, to recover.
“We had a very successful year 2019 with the highest number of tourists and income from the tourism industry and we were expecting a wonderful year 2020 and suddenly all the touristic countries in the area and the world we suspended the international flights and inbound domestic tourism by mid-March,” he says.
Egypt received 13 million tourists who spent $13 billion last year as the sector recovered following the 2011 uprising and terrorist activities.
During the first two months of 2020, Egypt welcomed 2.3 million tourists and $3 billion in revenues.
“The industry was completely stopped since then (mid-March),” he adds in reference to the impact of the coronavirus.
The government has gradually restarted economic activities, according to the minister.
“We resumed working in the domestic tourism by mid-May with 25 percent capacity and we started by the beginning of June for 50 percent capacity,” he adds.
“We established very strict safety and hygiene regulations to welcome the (foreign) tourists very soon by the beginning of July.”
Egyptian authorities have followed the standards and measures rolled out by other countries in the region as well as adhering to World Health Organization guidance, according to the minister.
During this first phase, which begins on 1 July, foreign tourists are allowed in three provinces: South Sinai, the Red Sea and Matruh, famous for their beaches.
“Let’s say that resuming tourism is not an Egyptian decision because it is also a political decision from our markets, mainly in Europe, to resume tourism with Egypt and the operators to resume working with Egypt,” he adds.
The government has chosen these three provinces for the first phase because “they are almost isolated from the Nile valley, from the high density of population, because they witnessed the lowest number of Covid-19 cases in Egypt, they are almost zero now and they are open-air areas, beaches and mountains,” he says.
“It is exactly what the tourist is looking for now after being confined during three or four months”.
The minister admits authorities were optimistic of this year when the Grand Egyptian Museum, the biggest in the world, was due to be inaugurated.
“We were very optimistic because we were planning to open the Grand Egyptian Museum by the end of 2020 and we were sure that it will be a boost for the tourism industry but everything was postponed to the next year,” he says.
The reopening of the tombs, temples and pyramids in Luxor, Aswan and Giza will depend on the evolution of the epidemic, the minister tells Efe.
“If everything goes well in Egypt, we will be ready to open by August or September, but once again we are watching carefully the health situation and the progress of the pandemic in the world and Egypt,” he said.
Egypt has not managed to reach the almost 15 million tourists it welcomed in 2010, a year before the Arab Spring, and the industry has now been hit by this new setback, but the minister remains optimistic.