Egypt is desperate to reboot the country’s COVID-19 decimated tourism industry. Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anany has made it made the redux his mission in life. Unfortunately, the mission may be doomed from the start if long term sustainability is a goal.
Just when Egypt tourism had bounced back to thrive after a series of setbacks, the coronavirus pandemic called a half to Egypt’s plan to welcome more than 15 million tourists in 2020. Now, according to the minister, Egypt is losing about €1 billion per month in an industry that accounts for 12% of the country’s GDP.
Flights to Egypt were stopped back in mid-March, and hotel, flight, and tour cancellations followed swiftly. And sites like Giza, the Nile Valley, Alexandria, Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan that once swarmed with eager tourists, are still mostly abandoned except for locals.
Every tourism-related business has suffered. Restaurants, bazaars, hotels, transportation, everyone in the business, and those employed by the industry is in panic mode. The disaster is nearly complete, and el-Anany’s job seems almost impossible. But there may be a silver lining amid the looming clouds of catastrophe.
The COVID-19 pandemic offers an opportunity to re-discover sustainable ways of tourism in Egypt, and elsewhere. After years of “westernized” touristic ideas that brought on big problems, Egypt has an opportunity to adjust the path. Some experts say empowering local communities is the way forward in the wake of COVID-19.
This report on Egyptian Streets references how rural communities have been marginalized to the point of invisibility in Egypt. Some of us here on Crete island sympathize because of the dying out of village culture because of mass tourism. Community tourism, a term used by some experts, is about returning the focus to the people and the land/culture they know so well. In Egypt, and places like Greece and Crete where culture and tradition are the real preservable values, rethinking what sustainability is makes sense.
The deep connections people feel when they are in nature when they stand before the Great Pyramid, and when they experience the warm, proud smiles of the real people, these are the values truly worth preserving. And, in so doing, the beaches, rivers, lakes, mountains, and historic sites feel the pressure of over-tourism being removed.
Early this month Minister Khaled el-Anany reported Egypt’s Red Sea resorts of Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh having welcomed over 4,000 tourists after the COVID draught when international flights resumed. This was after the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) awarded Egypt the Safe Travels stamp. But there’s not much of a move toward revamping the industry toward sustainability. What we see are announcements like the first opening of the Bent Pyramid and its UNESCO sister, the satellite pyramid in the Dahshur royal necropolis. These wonders have not been opened to the public since the 1960s.
Creating more attractions, building more resorts, digging up more ancient tablets, and putting it all on display is now what truly sustainable tourism is about. It cannot be about this. Additionally, Egypt’S tourism sector’s investment plan for 2020/2021 reveals a decline of 28.8 percent. The reports show Egyptian officials basically providing incentives to attract droves of tourists as before, in an effort to prop up the economy. Egypt is in emergency short-term mode, a situation that will lead to further downward spiraling where sustainability is concerned. But the problem is not “just” an Egyptian one.
Egypt tourism, like the industry in a great many other hard-hit countries, is desperate to seek help from EU banks, the IMF, and other external sources to stop the bleeding over COVID-19. What this desperation creates is a strategy/policy vacuum where Egypt decision-makers are forced to adopt flawed policies created by the lenders who helped create over-tourism in the first place. Take this report from Forbes.
One “expert”, Amanda Hills, President of MMGY Hills Balfour, is cited in the report, says,” The more we can get everyone travelling again the more we can save our industry.” Hills Balfour is the UK’s leading travel, tourism, and lifestyle communications partner, but clearly not expert at innovative, proactive future tourism activity. Geoffrey Kent, Founder and Co-Chairman of Abercrombie & Kent seems to have telephoned Hills about the short term strategy for tourism. His ideas are more or less an advertisement as well. In the Forbes story, only Nobert Kettner, Director of the Vienna Tourist Board even comes close to proposing sustainability as a key driver of future tourism. At least for the short term.
What does this mean? Well, nobody is asking the right questions, so nobody is offering the right solutions. At least, no one who is in the prevalent news on tourism. From Australia to Tanzania, all anyone can talk about is tourism “returning to its former glory.” There’s no discussion about sustainable glory. Even groups like the Sustainability Leaders Project does not really offer a paradigm that would lead to a new tourism model.
Even National Geographic cannot spin out a meaningful and constructive story about sustainable travel emerging with renewed importance post-pandemic. To be honest, the end result is a sad state of affairs if you look down the road a bit. COVID-19 is going to redistribute wealth and property to those who already control vast swaths of the real estate landscape. These same interests are the ones who superimposed mass tourism onto every market.
The quest for margins will probably be greater than ever, in a tourism world dominated by two-dimensional investment thinkers. TUI, hedge funds like Blackrock, and familiar names will have an even great influence on tourism. And markets like Egypt are oh-so dependent on their money and their tourists. So, don’t expect less of a crowd at Giza, and more cultural trips to the pyramids of Abusir (Abu Sir Al-Maleq). Egypt tourism, like the sector in Greece and other high profile cultural destinations, is going to go for the quick money first, middle, and last.
Photo credit: Feature image of Luxor Temple by Jorge Láscar