Egypt is a destination that has experienced both turmoil and tranquillity, as reflected in the 2011 riots against the long-running regime of Hosni Mubarak – he was removed from power – and the now apparent stabilisation following last month’s presidential elections. “We do expect recovery, and this will probably happen in the third or four quarter,” says Christian Grage, vice-president of operations, Egypt and Levant, Hilton Worldwide.
Understandably, the main international source markets, including the UK and Russia, have been staying away these past 18 months, Grage explains, “because they were not confident about the country’s stability”. As the main stage for civil unrest, Cairo – of all the country’s popular visitor hubs – suffered the most, seeing its corporate and leisure clientele dwindle simultaneously. Cairo International Airport, which earlier had been experiencing solid growth, reported that passenger movements decreased by a staggering 33 per cent.
Grage, however, reiterates Hilton Worldwide’s belief in the region, despite its political hiccups. “We launched two properties in Egypt last year, the Hilton Cairo Zamalek Residences along the River Nile and the Hilton Marsa Alam Nubian Resort, as well as a Doubletree in Aqaba, Jordan and two in Beirut. Few companies are as committed to the Middle East as we are, opening [hotels] even in these difficult times.”
Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, which has a sizeable stake in the country with nine hotels and three cruise boats (one is pictured above right) flagging its brand, also remains bullish about the future. “There are signs that business is picking up,” observes Stephen Banks, the chain’s director of sales and marketing, Africa.
Fortunately, Egypt’s resort areas along the Red Sea have proven resilient. “It’s like another world out there,” Banks tells Mix. He reveals that Mövenpick properties in that popular holiday hub have been averaging decent occupancies around 65 per cent (it even zoomed to 90 per cent in April). It helps having the Marsa Alam International Airport – billed as the “gateway to the Southern Red Sea” – located in the vicinity. Flights from London, Vienna, Brussels and Amsterdam, and within the region Beirut, Dubai, Kuwait and Jeddha, make their way there, bypassing Cairo and bringing in crowds of precious passengers.
River Nile cruises are activities Mövenpick intends to invest heavily in for the future, noticing growing interest from corporates for charters on which to organise intimate onboard meetings and incentives. Banks says the chain was so encouraged by requests for more sailings that it is adding five more boats, including a vintage steamboat.
Mövenpick also aims to reach out to the glittering visitor potential offered by China, making definite moves with Banks attending the China Outbound Travel and Tourism Market last April in Beijing. “We are really keen to develop the market,” he says. During the trade show, he discovered that Chinese travellers are highly interested in viewing cultural icons and antiquities, rather than enjoying the Red Sea’s sun and sand.
Egypt has certainly been low on the tourist and business events radar for a lengthy stretch. But it need not worry too much; the visitors will be back – as they have always been after each of the country’s political crossroads.
ACCESS: Cairo International Airport is the main entry point, located 22km northeast of central Cairo. The three terminals are linked by a free shuttle bus. It is the home port for EgyptAir (www.egyptair.com) and serves more than 65 airlines, creating a broad-reaching global travel network.
CLIMATE: Egypt has an arid desert climate, with very hot summers (up to 40?C) and warm winters (18?C during the day, but nights can be cold). What little rain there is, happens during the winter months.
LANGUAGE: The official language is Standard Arabic, but most Egyptians speak a local Arabic dialect. English and French are taught in schools, so the standard of English in the tourism and business sectors is generally good.
VISA: Citizens of most countries can obtain a visa on arrival at major entry points – costs vary by nationality and are usually for stays of up to three months. Visit www.touregypt.net/visa.htm or www.egyptianconsulate.co.uk for more details.
CONTACT: Egyptian Tourism Authority