CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt aims to attract 13.5 million visitors next year, bringing in around $11 billion, as it launches an international campaign to lure back foreigners deterred by political turmoil, the tourism minister said.
The country is a magnet for people interested in ancient history, sunbathing on the Red Sea and Mediterranean coasts, or Nile cruises, but their numbers have fallen since a popular revolt overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
The tourism industry, once worth more than a tenth of economic output, had been improving since the uprising but suffered a fresh blow from political tension in the lead-up to the army’s ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July, following mass protests against his rule.
“If nothing huge happens to affect tourist movement, and we go into 2014 positively, numbers will rise again .. next year we can work on the 13.5 million figure,” Minister Hisham Zaazou said during the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit.
“Recovery will begin at the start of the year, and total recovery, such that we reach the normal averages pre-uprising, will be by end-2014,” he said in an interview.
In 2010, 14.7 million visitors came, but arrivals slowed to 9.8 million the following year, with revenues of $8.8 billion.
In 2012, numbers rose to 11.5 million tourists and revenues rebounded to about $10 billion.
“Touristic destinations are safe and sound and away from disturbances,” Zaazou said.
He said he expected arrivals in 2013 at between 10-11 million tourists and revenues at around $8.5 to $9 billion.
Though the Red Sea and South Sinai resorts have been shielded from continued political turmoil, the army has been fighting Islamist militants in North Sinai who have intensified attacks against police and soldiers since Mursi was deposed.
Clashes sometimes also erupt at pro-Mursi protests in Cairo and certain other cities such as Alexandria and Suez.
Over the past few months, Zaazou has visited countries in Europe and elsewhere, to persuade them that Egypt is safe enough to relax official travel advisories, many of which were imposed since July.
Zaazou said some 18 countries have responded positively, such as Scandinavian countries and Germany, which has lifted warnings on the Red Sea, South Sinai, Luxor and Aswan.
He said he expected Russia, the single biggest source of tourists to Egypt, to lift its travel warning on the Red Sea and South Sinai regions in November.
“I don’t have guarantees, but my sentiment is that this will happen,” he said.
Egypt’s long-term target is to reach 30 million tourists and revenues of $25 billion by 2022.
Zaazou said that despite the expected “total recovery” in tourist arrival numbers in 2014, revenues are not likely to reach pre-2011 levels of $12.5 billion.
He expects tourism revenues to reach $11 billion by the end of next year.
“With current contracts, average tourist spending is less. In 2010, average spending per tourist was $85 per night, now it is around $62 or $63 per tourist per night.”
Zaazou said his ministry would launch an international advertising campaign next month to restore tourism confidence.
This will include advertisements on international television channels and outdoor advertising on public transport in Europe such as London’s underground railway system, he said.
“We are trying nowadays to finish up and embark on a public relations and communications campaign to relay the right message about the reality of what’s happening on the ground in Egypt,” Zaazou said.
HE said the campaign would include “co-marketing” efforts like helping to cut cost risks for charter flights to destinations such as the Red Sea coast resort Sharm el-Sheikh.
“The message is that even if you have empty seats on any specific flight coming into Egypt, Hurghada, Sharm, whatever, we will share into reducing the cost of that empty seat, but do not cancel the flight because you have less passenger numbers.”
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Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Anthony Barker