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Is it safe to travel to Egypt? The data — and travelers — say yes

Lily Girma | Bloomberg News (TNS)

Tourism in Egypt was roaring back with a vengeance in 2023: The land of the pharaohs welcomed 14.9 million international visitors throughout the year, a record number since the pro-democracy uprising of 2011. For a country mired in economic woes, the visitor boom painted a promising trajectory.

That was threatened on Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel and sparked a war alongside Egypt’s northeastern border a little more than 200 miles from Cairo. Almost five months later, the country has tempered its tourism expectations. And yet it’s continued to see growth in terms of international arrivals.

Egypt’s minister of tourism and antiquities, Ahmed Issa, says tourist arrivals were up 6% in the first seven weeks of 2024. That’s below the ministry’s projected 20% growth for the year, which would have ultimately meant 18 million annual visitors. “If it weren’t for the war, we would have much bigger numbers,” Issa says.

Who’s staying home is potentially even more important: Americans. The makeup of current visitors favors lower spenders who come on shorter trips, primarily from Europe, versus U.S. travelers who tend to stay longer and splurge. (Egypt’s tourism revenue reached $13.6 billion in the financial year ended July 2023, up 27% from a year earlier.) At a time when other major streams of revenue, such as Suez Canal receipts, have been slashed because of the Israel-Hamas war’s impact, drawing more U.S. visitors — who stay an average of 13 nights and visit multiple regions in a single trip, according to Egyptian tourism and antiquities minister Issa — remains paramount to Egypt’s overall economy.

In fact, Egypt is likely poised to enact a currency devaluation very soon in a bid to tackle the economic crisis; should that come to pass, it could yield significant deals for international visitors.

U.S.-based tour operator Abercrombie & Kent, which offers luxurious 10-day Nile cruises from $8,995 per person, and upscale travel agency Egypt Tourism USA, which also arranges trips to Jordan, say bookings aren’t coming in as fast and furious as they did last year, as Americans are taking a more cautious approach to traveling in the Middle East. London-based Jacada Travel has seen American tourists’ inquiries bounce back by 60% in January 2024 compared to September 2023, with particular interest in Nile cruises for later this year.

Google data on destination demand, analyzed by Bloomberg, paint a similar picture. Overall search volume for hotels and flights from the US to Egypt in the period from Oct. 7 through Feb. 2, 2024, is down 16% from the previous year and has yet to rebound to prewar levels. That’s a more significant drop in interest than seen by other Middle Eastern countries: Searches for the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, for instance, were down 1.3% and 8%, respectively.

But additional data suggest the fears may be misplaced. According to sentiment analysis from Spain-based tourism intelligence company Mabrian Technologies, Egypt has had a perceived security index of 86 out of 100 in recent weeks — a figure that represents how international visitors to the country describe their experiences on social media. That’s an improvement from 68.9 in mid-December 2023, though still below prewar levels of 92.4 in September 2023. A score of 100 means no complaints about safety were included in online posts about the destination.

In that regard, Egypt is ahead of its regional rivals: Tourist safety perception was lower in Turkey (84), Jordan (83.6) and Qatar (81.6) during the same period of February 2024, according to Mabrian Technologies data. (There’s no data currently available for Israel as tourism activity hasn’t yet returned there.)

Attraction and infrastructure upgrades

Now may be an opportune time to visit Egypt if you’re seeking to avoid the crowds and score deals, with Google data showing hotels priced 18% to 25% lower than usual. And it would mean contributing to the local economy. In 2019 tourism represented at least 9% of Egypt’s gross domestic product and employed 2.4 million people. You’d also be among the first to see a host of improvements in various parts of the country.

“Egypt spent 22% of its GDP over the past seven years on infrastructure,” says Issa, adding that the country is making improvements to draw 30 million visitors by 2028. “The quality of the infrastructure in Egypt today can sustain four or five times (the number of tourists it received in 2023).”

Increasing the number of luxury hotel rooms to accommodate high-spending visitors is a particular focus. The Waldorf Astoria Cairo Heliopolis (rates from $232) opened its doors this past August. The UAE just sealed a $35 billion deal with Egypt that includes developing the beachfront Ras El-Hekma, about a four-hour drive northwest of Cairo, into a luxury resort that would attract major hotel investments.

In a couple of months, visitors to Egypt can expect to find a wider deployment of hop-on, hop-off electric buses stopping at nine sights within the Giza pyramid complex; several new restaurants in the Giza compound also have opened over the past three years. A few miles away, the long-awaited Grand Egyptian Museum will be opening fully this year.

East of the pyramids, five archaeological sites are undergoing renovations, part of a plan to entice short-haul visitors to opt for multiple Cairo city breaks. Restoration is also underway at the 500-year-old Ottoman Mosque and at the palace of Muhammad Ali, who ruled Egypt in the early 19th century. Those are in addition to two restored towers now open to visitors at the Citadel of Cairo, an iconic 12th century landmark in the city’s skyline that was once the seat of government, as well as the new Imhotep Museum in Giza, which houses more than 300 archaeological pieces representing various dynasties.

Visiting will mean keeping an eye on government travel warnings. For Americans, the State Department advisory for Egypt hasn’t changed since July, when terrorism and potential attacks on tourist locations—including in Cairo—bumped it to Level 3: Reconsider Travel. The advisory’s areas of concern, however, are away from the major destinations, including beach resort hub Sharm el-Sheikh.

The safest approach for travelers heading to Egypt this year is to leave the planning to the experts, who can advise guests or make changes to itineraries if the situation should suddenly change. For those who plan on a luxury Nile cruise in the back half of the year, planning early will be key.

“Some of the top ships are sold out for October 2024 already,” says Alesha Walton, head of Middle East trip design at Jacada Travel. “So moving fast affords the best weather and room availability.”

©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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