SHARM EL-SHEIK - Egyptian authorities say the country’s sagging tourism industry is bouncing back, with a huge increase in visitors during the summer and early fall. But as resorts and historical sights enjoy the business, analysts say continued insecurity makes the sector in Egypt volatile, and not profitable enough to fix the country’s beleaguered economy.
On the shores and under the water of this resort town on the Sinai Peninsula, tourists see none of the insecurity the region is best known for in the news.
Egyptian officials say they hope, by next year, to return the tourism industry to its pre-2011 glory, when the industry pulled in more than $12 billion in a year.
Egyptian tourism minister Hisham Zaazou said the hope and challenge was to be able to report a significant restoration of the sector in the first part of next year. But analysts said this challenge was considerable because the industry relied on international public perception of safety in Egypt at a time of continued unrest.
Lebanese American University Political Science Professor Sami Baroudi called for economic diversity.
“Tourism is a very important but volatile sector. So you cannot pin your economic strategy on a sector that one or two bombings or one or two basically assassinations may impact adversely,” he said.
For Egypt to alleviate widespread crushing poverty, he said, the country needed to invest in industry and export goods. But unlike the export business, he added, Egypt’s tourism industry already had the infrastructure and expertise in place.
“You have to bear in mind all the investments that have been done in the tourism sector, all the jobs in Egypt that are tied to tourism. The government cannot but give high priority to this sector,” said Baroudi.
But economists say even if the government succeeds in convincing visitors to once again crowd into its cities and on its shores, the country will still need to rely heavily on foreign aid to keep afloat after three years of political turmoil that collapsed two Egyptian governments.
“It is not enough to help Egypt to take off because the events that took place between 2011 until 2013 had ended the economy significantly,” said Marwan Iskander, a veteran economist with Banque Pharaon & Chiha in Lebanon.
Protests and clashes continue in Egypt, threatening to dial back some of the recent successes in the tourism industry.
On the other hand, Isaknder said new markets were opening up, with a large increase of Russian tourists to Egypt in recent years.
And tour guides here said despite the insecurity they, like the iconic Nile River, would endure indefinitely.