Is it possible to enhance Egyptian tourism despite high rates of COVID-19 infections?

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Tue, 23 Jun 2020 - 09:55 GMT

An aerial view of the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Tourism accounts for around 10 percent of Zimbabwe's GDP. (Photo: AFP/Zinyange Auntony) Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/zimbabwe-e

An aerial view of the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Tourism accounts for around 10 percent of Zimbabwe's GDP. (Photo: AFP/Zinyange Auntony) Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/zimbabwe-e

CAIRO– 23 June 2020: Civil flights to and from Egypt were suspended on March 19 ,and restaurants, hotels, and cafes were closed, resulting in an almost complete closure of tourism-related activities

In mid-May, the resumption of local tourism was allowed in certain areas under strict conditions and with an occupancy rate of less than 25 percent, while allowing local tourists to stay in hotels with a valid certificate.

The government lowered occupancy requirements to 50 percent in June, and nearly 155 resorts and hotels were able to receive local guests.

As of July 1, there will be 232 open tourism establishments in 13 governorates that have been allowed to receive foreign and domestic visitors alike.

Hossam El-Shaer, president of the Egyptian Travel Agents Association, told local media that the resumption of domestic tourism was successful and that effective implementation of the regulations would reassure international travelers.

Meanwhile, Ali Monastiri Announced that hotels expect 100 percent occupancy rates in Alexandria and along the northern coast in July and August

While Egypt is not the only country in the region looking to reopen its doors to visitors, it is one of the few countries still suffering from an increase in the number of new cases of COVID-19.

To encourage tourism while reducing public health risks, the government has taken a regional approach.

Areas such as Cairo and Qalubia - which have seen the greatest number of cases - will continue to be subject to travel restrictions, while coastal areas that have recorded the lowest rates will be opened

Moreover, visitors from countries where the epidemic is still spreading will be asked to provide a PCR test indicating that they are not infected with the new coronavirus

Visitors will also be able to travel to a number of the most famous archaeological destinations, including the Pyramids of Giza. Initially, there will be a limit of 25 people per trip, and up to a maximum of 200 persons permitted within large museums at once.

In addition to alleviating concerns about coronavirus, the government has made several decisions aimed at attracting international visitors; tourist visas will not be required for people visiting the coastal governorates; aviation fuel will be discounted by 10 cents per gallon; airlines will receive a 50 percent landing and boarding fee discount, and a 20-percent discount on ground services will be granted for direct flights to the coastal governorates.

This is in addition to a 20-percent discount on tickets to historical sites and museums, with further discounts for those using Egypt Air and Airco

Despite these decisions, Egypt is likely to face some restrictions from many countries such as Britain, which is still imposing a two-week quarantine on returning travelers, with no timeline for a change in policy

German travelers will only be allowed to return to Egypt from September. However, Ukrainians can be allowed to visit by mid-August, Italian tourists may arrive early in July, and the Red Sea city of Hurghada confirmed that some visitors from Belarus will arrive on July 4.

While these are positive signs, they may not completely dissipate the concerns of the tourism-related companies that have endured throughout the closing period. For example, national carrier EgyptAir has seen losses of LE3 billion ($185.6m) per month since it was grounded. The airline has said it expects the lifting of civil aviation restrictions to result in a return to 20-30 percent operating capacity in July and 50 percent by the end of 2020.

As of mid-June, the carrier was reportedly seeking a LE3 billion in the form of a loan from BanqueMisr and the National Bank of Egypt.The loan, expected to be concluded by July, would cover some of its losses and ensure that the airline could repay foreign loans taken out to finance the acquisition of new aircrafts.

Meanwhile, a LE 3 billion credit guarantee for Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) tourism financing was approved by the Ministry of Finance on June 17, to ensure that the industry can function effectively.

The CBE administers a LE50 billion tourism support initiative, LE3 billion of which is dedicated to paying maintenance costs and salaries, with the remainder reserved for renovation works.

Also, soft loans to tourism companies seeking financing for maintenance and operation expenses will be offered at a decreasing interest rate of 5 percent.In combination with such measures, the re-opening of Egypt’s borders to international tourists may suggest that the sector has weathered the worst of the coronavirus storm.

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