Egypt taps private firms and long-delayed museum to revitalise tourism

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FILE PHOTO: Ancient Egyptian coffin is on display in a laboratory at the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, Egypt September 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo

By Patrick Werr and Aidan Lewis

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt, home to ancient pyramids and Red Sea resorts, aims to boost tourism by up to 30% annually over the next five years, bringing in private firms to operate sites and inaugurating a huge museum around the end of 2023, its tourism minister said.

Tourism is a crucial source of foreign currency and jobs for Egypt’s struggling economy. The sector earned $10.75 billion in the financial year ending in June 2022, up from $4.86 billion the prior year, when it was hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

But it captures a little under 1% of the global tourism market, said Ahmed Issa, a former banker appointed as tourism minister last summer.

The budget for more than 2,000 archaeological sites and 41 museums in the 2021/22 financial year was a modest 3.2 billion Egyptian pounds ($170 million at the exchange rate at the time).

“I think Egypt deserves and should be able to grow its tourism industry by 25% to 30% per annum consistently over the coming decade. And that should get us to about 30 million (visitors) by the year 2028,” Issa told Reuters in an interview.

“It’s a product that has the most compelling competitive advantage of all the products that Egypt can offer globally.”

Immediate priorities include expanding flight capacity and improving the investment climate by streamlining regulation, Issa said.

A need to increase the number of hotel rooms to half a million by 2030 from 212,000 last year could draw $30 billion in private investment, and private companies were involved in pilot projects to manage 10 sites, he added.

These include the Giza pyramids, the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo, and the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) that will soon house the country’s most prestigious artefacts.

“We are reviewing this experiment today, to be able to learn from it and be able to take it to the next level and expand on it,” Issa said.

The repeatedly delayed opening of GEM, a vast structure near the Giza pyramids that has been under construction since 2005, was likely to happen between October and January, Issa said. Egypt hopes to attract world leaders to attend the inauguration.

A rebound in visitor numbers from European and other markets was compensating for losses from what used to be Egypt’s top two markets, Russia and Ukraine, Issa said, adding he expected a surge in Chinese tourists this year.

Longer term, Egypt would seek to develop the market for independent travellers alongside tour operator packages, he added.

(Reporting by Patrick Werr and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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