A Russian employee of a hotel teaches belly dancing to Russian tourists in Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday. Photograph: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters A Russian employee of a hotel teaches belly dancing to Russian tourists in Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday. Photograph: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

Russian Tourism in Egypt: What’s Next?

Mon, Jul. 23, 2018
CAIRO - 23 July 2018: Russian passenger flights to Cairo officially resumed in April after a two-year suspension, a move expected to reflect positively on tourist inflows. A contract signed mid-June with FIFA to promote Egypt as tourist destination — making it the first African investor in this year’s season — is also expected to have an equally powerful impact on tourism.

The contract was an agreement inked in Moscow between FIFA and an Egyptian delegation that included Minister of Tourism Rania Al-Mashat and Minister of International Cooperation and Investment Sahar Nasr. In line with the deal, Egypt is using various outlets to promote Egypt at the FIFA World Cup 2018 events.


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Entitled “Egypt — Experience, Invest,” the contract allows the campaign to display its slogan alongside the World Cup logo on various banners, giant digital billboards, commercials during live matches, and more. Promotional billboards with the same slogan are also being displayed at a number of major European countries. The financial magnitude of the deal was undisclosed in news reports.

In another positive move for tourism inflows to Egypt, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed in January 2018 a presidential decree to resume passenger flights between Cairo and Moscow. Egypt Today spoke to experts to weigh in on what the recent developments mean for the tourism industry, and how soon it might be before they lead to an uptick in tourist inflows.

In pre-revolution numbers, Russian tourists amounted to 3 million per annum, 30 percent of the average tourist pool visiting Egypt annually. The vast majority of these, up to 95 percent, according to Hisham el-Demeiry, former head of the Tourism Development Authority, primarily visited coastal resort towns such as Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh, with little knowledge of other attractions. The current passenger plane flight schedule, however, only operates to Cairo. Charter planes used to operate direct routes to Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh and are expected to resume the same popular routes upon their return.

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The charter flight passenger

“The types of flights that have returned from Russia are passenger flights, which don’t bring in large tourist passenger numbers [as charter flights do],” says Magdi Sadek, chair of the board of a travel agency, and a member of the Egyptian Travel Agents Association (ETTA). “The Russian tourist is one with a minimal budget,” he adds. Since there have been no reported developments regarding the return of Russian charter flights to Egypt, he argues it seems unlikely the Russian tourists—previously a primary incoming tourist market to Egypt—will return en masse.

Sadek’s tourism company, Audio Egypt Travel Services, runs tourist services for varied clientele, including Russian and European tourists. He witnessed first-hand the effect of Russian tourists “altogether disappear[ing]” during the past couple of years, following the crash of a Russian Metro jet flight shortly after flying out from South Sinai’s Sharm El-Sheikh Airport in October 2015, killing all passengers on board.

Sadek underlines the importance of the meetings scheduled later in the summer between Civil Aviation Ministry and the Russian authorities to set a schedule for the return of charter flights. Talks were initially scheduled for late May, although there have been no news reports about the developments. However, Sadek believes that any progress in terms of the charter flights’ schedule is unlikely before the end of the summer as the Russian market is likely to remain focused on the FIFA World Cup well into July.

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Sadek also finds that putting a plan in place to promote Egypt during the FIFA World Cup is critical to bringing back significant tourist numbers comparable with those achieved prior to the uprisings in 2011 and the political instability that followed. He expects the outcome to be an “unprecedented” improvement in tourist inflows. In another positive move arranged long before the contract was announced, Egyptian virtuoso musician Omar Khairat performed a spectacular concert at the Mariinsky Theatre in the cultural city of Saint Petersburg on Monday, June 18, celebrating the Egyptian National Football team’s participation in the World Cup after 28 years of absence.

Speaking about the return of Russian passenger planes to Egypt, el-Demeiry says the move is a clear signal of prospective heightened tourist inflows, even if charter flights have yet to return. In his view, as the purchasing power of Russian tourists travelling on passenger planes is actually higher than that of the traveler on charter flights, the incoming tourist on these carriers has “greater flexibility” to experience “more than one product.” This type of tourist also expects a higher-quality service than their more budget-conscious counterparts.

The new circumstances could be an opportunity to provide a “new type of product” that wasn’t previously offered, El-Demeiry tells Egypt Today Egypt. Although he adds that resuming Aeroflot and EgyptAir passenger planes between Russia and Cairo may “not be enough” to bring in the large tourist numbers of the pre-2011 tourist seasons, El-Demeiry still believes that the current arrangement, with only the Cairo route in operation, allows for packaging new types of trips for Russian tourists.

“We want to start targeting a generation that is looking for excitement, for authenticity, to experience something that they would definitely not be able to find elsewhere…[The contract signed with FIFA] aims to promote Egypt to the massive global audience,” al-Mashat said in an interview with CNN on June 21. “We’re trying to use technology to attract more investors to visit Egypt.” Viewership of the FIFA World Cup is reportedly at around 2 billion, with around 10 million people visiting Russia this summer to attend the games live.

“We want tourists to visit not only for the [historical] sites, but also to live the experience of Egypt. We want people to experience our music, our food and get a taste of what the country has to offer,” al-Mashat further explained. The ministry is also running a competition with the hashtag #CheerLikeanEgyptian awarding 60 lucky winners a “dream trip” to Egypt, financed by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism.


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In addition to the Russian-favorite Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh, new trips for Russian tourists, El Demeiry says, could include Marsa Matrouh and the North Coast, Mediterranean resorts that Russian tourists may not have visited previously but are now crucial to market given their proximity to Cairo. Tourist companies could also take on “cultural tourism,” such as historical attractions in Luxor and Aswan, through itineraries scheduled as a days-long trips. El Demeiry also points to making use of the newly inaugurated Grand Egyptian National Museum in Cairo.

While Egypt heavily relied on tourism inflows from Russia in the past, the efforts made to promote the country as a tourism and investment destination at the FIFA World Cup will easily help facilitate further improvement in tourism revenues and interest globally.

Promoting Egyptian Tourism: prospects and challenges

The number of tourists visiting Egypt jumped by 30 percent during the first quarter of 2018, Minister al-Mashat previously said, adding that more diversified tourist nationalities—such as Chinese and Austrians—were seen to be visiting. Egypt’s hotel occupancy also grew during the first quarter of 2018 to a peak not witnessed since 2010, according to a report by Smith Travel Research (STR) published in March. The report states that the increase in occupancy rates hiked by 21.2 percent, to reach 60.1 percent in the first quarter.

Comparably, the hotel market in Red Sea cities remained low well into the end of last year, according to a Colliers International’s MENA Hotel Forecasts report for the period from August to October 2017 attributing the decline to persistent travel bans on Egypt from various European countries at the time, including the UK.

Although he pointed to the disappearance of Russian tourism in Egypt during the past couple of years, Sadek also noted that American, Italian and French tourists have returned to Egypt once again during the past year, thanks to an improvement in Egypt’s image abroad as a safe destination for tourists, largely due to the role of social media awareness. Sharm El Sheikh and Marsa Alam have reportedly been among the more popular attractions nationwide during this timeframe. This will be further magnified by the ministry’s current efforts to globally promote Egypt.

Atef Bakr Ajlan, chairman of NBE Tours (reportedly the first Egyptian tourist company to open a branch in Russia tells) Egypt Today that Egypt’s tourism industry losses have been significant since the revolution in 2011, when neighboring countries such as Turkey succeeded to attract Russian tourists as Egypt became less popular due to the security situation. He says that these, and other challenges the industry is facing, can be resolved with the government’s involvement.

Egypt has made significant efforts to develop airport security at various locations nationwide since the Metro jet crash, which an ISIS-affiliated group claimed responsibility for. Since then, Egypt has received Russian experts to inspect the security methods at Egyptian airports on several occasions. Efforts made in accordance with the Ministry of Civil Aviation included modernizing the infrastructure of air navigation radars, upgrading the level of training for employees at airports and purchasing the latest security equipment.

“Tourism has now become an experience to the new generation,” El-Demeiry says. “For instance, they don’t want to come just to see the pyramids, but to also enjoy the surroundings and their experience during their visit to the pyramids. Today, the real agent promoting tourism is the tourist. When a tourist shares their picture with the pyramids and an accompanying status [on social media] about how much they enjoyed it there, this is far more powerful than any advertisement.This is not possible unless the tourist has had a great experience they are willing to share.” El-Demeiry was in office during the time of the “This is Egypt” promotional campaign, the video of which won the Best Tourism Promotional Video award in the Middle East at the General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization (WTO) in China in September 2017.
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