Tourists Continue Flocking to Egypt
Zarocostas, John, The World and I
John Zarocostas is a writer for The Washington Times.
Last year's U.S.-led war against Iraq and the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome combined to deal a severe blow to the travel industry worldwide, but Egypt defied the trend, attracting a record 6 million foreign visitors, a 16.4 percent increase over the previous year.
The sharp depreciation of the Egyptian pound, which followed the floating of the currency in January 2003, and an aggressive and international advertising campaign contributed to the sector's strong performance as the country's top foreign-exchange earner, bringing in $4.3 billion.
Mamdouh El Beltagy, who was the tourism minister until early this month and is now Egypt's information minister, estimated that the number of tourists this year will exceed 7 million. He said that in the first five months of 2004, Egypt had 3.2 million foreign visitors, up 68 percent from the same period last year. By all indications, he said, the sector is on track to meet and even surpass the government's conservative five- year tourism goal of about 7.5 million tourists and $6.9 billion in foreign-exchange earnings by 2006-07.
Despite the region's hazards, Egypt's average rate of tourism growth was 9.2 percent during the period from 1993 to 2003, he said. This was more than double the Egyptian economy's overall growth rate in that period.
The upward trend in tourism contrasts sharply with more sluggish sectors of the economy--from manufacturing plants to banks and insurance companies--still weighed down by government-run enterprises.
In contrast, tourism is fully liberalized with no limits on foreign direct investments, the right to liquidate and transfer capital and profits abroad, and a generous 10-year tax holiday, he said. Moreover, the sector has fully recovered from the 1997 Luxor massacre, which brought the industry to its knees, and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, which adversely affected tourism to Egypt for nine months.
In light of the terrorist threat, the government has spent huge sums to repair Egypt's image and beef up its security and antiterrorism capabilities. Indeed, Egyptian officials like to point out that the country has not had a single terrorist incident since the Luxor attack, in which 62 persons were killed by Islamist militants. The upturn in tourism also helped cushion the loss of trade with Iraq, Egypt's largest trading partner. …