Egypt tourism

February 17, 2011, 7:17 pm By Richard Quest richardquest

Yes - it takes a knock, but the bounce back is usually quick too

Now the revolution's big moment is over - what happens next? It's a simple enough question but upon which depends the future direction of Egypt's economy and the stability of much of the region.

Nearly three weeks of protest will have taken their toll. You can't keep the stock market and banking sector closed and not expect to see effects. The Egyptian pound is under pressure. By some estimates Egypt's growth this year will be less than half the six percent the previous government had forecast.

All these economic factors will crimp creation of the one-and-a-half million jobs the economy needs to generate to bring down unemployment - a key problem that helped spark the protests in the first place.

Don't be too pessimistic

And yet I wouldn't rush to be too pessimistic about the outlook and direction of the growth as long as tourism continues to be a mainstay of the economy.

Egypt has become a tourism machine, with rapidly rising numbers of visitors reaching nearly 13 million last year. The industry is worth up to 10 percent of the economy and generated more than $10b last year. If the Egyptian economy is to revive it will be vital for the numbers of arrivals to return to normal as quickly as possible.

There is good evidence from other countries which have suffered international crises that tourism is exceptionally resilient. Yes - it takes a knock, but the bounce back is usually quick too.

Taking its toll

In Thailand during the first decade of this century SARS, the tsunami, recession and riots all took their toll. But ultimately these crises did not prevent tourism numbers from continuing the rise to nearly 16 million visitors. Interestingly it was the fear of illness with the scare of SARS and bird flu that had much bigger effects than the violence of 2008.

It is a similar story from Bali after the terrorist attack in 2002. In the following year there was an understandable drop in tourism numbers. But two years later, tourism arrivals had not only returned to previous levels, but had actually increased. Fast forward to the Jakarta bombings in 2005 and, again, a temporary lull is followed by a quick rebound.

In fact Egypt can look to its close cousin Tunisia where the uprising began and where already the UK tour operator Thomson's website says it is hoping to re-commence flights to Tunisia as soon as possible.

Memories are short

There have been numerous studies into why tourism is so resilient- but it really all comes down to one simple fact - memories are short and people love to travel.

There is nothing to suggest that in Egypt's case the same won't be true. In fact at the height of the crisis, tour operators like Thomson's, part of the Tui group, only cancelled visitors to the trouble spots of Cairo and Luxor. Holidaymakers continued their vacations in Sharm El Sheikh largely undisturbed.

It is also the Egyptian abililty to spot an opportunity, do a deal and make a market that gives me increased belief that tourism will bounce back. As anyone who has returned home from Cairo with a suitcase full of tourism 'stuff' - toy camels, pyramid lights, Sphinx ashtrays - can testify. I have more of this rubbish cluttering up cupboards than I like to admit.

Come see the Pyramids

I have no doubt someone is working out a way to make Tahrir Square part of the tourism experience. One can only imagine the souvenirs that they will be manufacturing to sell in the narrow back alleys and side streets of Khan el-Khalili market.

Egypt's tourism authority is so good, I foresee the campaign now: 'Come see the Pyramids where the ancient civilisations began. Then visit Tahrir Square where today's Middle East found democracy.'''

Richard Quest is a CNN correspondent based in London, host of the weekday one-hour program "Quest Means Business". For program highlights and more, go to www.cnn.com/qmb.''

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