Analysis: How soon can Egypt tourism recover?
Operators are cautiously optimistic that tourism to Egypt can bounce back if the industry pulls together.
By Juliet Dennis, on www.travelweekly.co.uk
The trade is expecting bookings to Egypt to bounce back in the wake of changes in Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice.
But at least one operator has called for a joint effort to aid the destination’s recovery, and many fear prices, particularly in the Red Sea, will stay “rock bottom”.
The country’s fortunes turned this week when the FCO lifted its ban on all but essential travel to Luxor, the main gateway for Nile cruises.
Operators hope the ban to Cairo, Suez and Alexandria will be lifted soon.
Latest statistics suggest the trade’s confidence is well founded. Analyst GfK Ascent said 3,000 bookings to Egypt were made last week, with average selling prices down £100 on last year.
Managing director Sarah Smalley said: “The good news is people are still booking Egypt.”
There have been continual updates saying that Sharm el-Sheikh is safe to visit. Smalley said: “People were obviously reassured by what was said about Sharm.”
Summer 2011 bookings to Egypt for the week to February 12 were nonetheless 6,000 down against the same week last year.
The FCO’s change in advice follows president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation and a drop-off in political unrest.
As a result, Thomas Cook, Thomson and First Choice announced that flights to Luxor would resume on February 23.
Within hours of the ban being lifted, independent operators used Twitter, Facebook and email to announce the resumption of programmes.
Discover Egypt director Philip Breckner said the reaction from agents and clients had been one of delight.
“Nile cruising is a holiday people dream about and they have been waiting anxiously,” he said.
The operator is resuming weekly charter flights to Luxor from Gatwick and Manchester on February 28.
Breckner, who remembers a strong bounce back after the Luxor massacre in 1997 and the September 11 attacks, said: “Egypt is somewhere people set their minds on going to.”
Time to pull together
Similarly, Tara Bradberry, marketing manager for Longwood Holidays, said: “We have lots of people interested in going to Luxor and Cairo.”
Longwood is resuming its Luxor programme on Monday.
However, Cosmos product and commercial director Phil Boggon warned the recovery could be tough and would require suppliers, travel agents and the media to pull together to encourage tourists to return.
“It’s going to be a challenge to get demand back immediately but it will come back because of the unique product,” he added.
“We will need the support of the whole trade to change the customer’s perception. Our priority now is to push sales and we are now looking at what we can do
to get the message out.”
Cosmos is restarting flights to Luxor from Gatwick and Manchester on March 7.
Prices will come under pressure but could be maintained for Luxor because of its product, Boggon said.
With reference to the Red Sea, he said: “We are not at the stage where we think we will have to dump capacity or prices.”
But Bradberry warned Red Sea prices were already suffering. “Prices were on the floor anyway; I don’t know how much lower they can go,” she said.
Online agency Directline Holidays has already started to see sales returning to the destination, which was back in the agency’s top five sellers by Sunday.
Chief executive Maria Whiteman said: “We saw a fair few bookings coming in online on Sunday and we think it will bounce back.”
- The FCO is no longer advising against all but essential travel to Luxor. As Travel Weekly went to press, a travel ban remained in place for Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. No travel ban was imposed on Red Sea resorts.
- UK arrivals have increased steadily to Egypt over the past decade. They reached 1.4 million last year, up from 1.3 million in 2009, 838,000 in 2005 and 378,000 in 2000.
- The political unrest in Egypt and Tunisia has cost Thomas Cook £20 million and Tui Travel £30 million.