2010 was a tremendous year for Egypt, at least in terms of tourism. Reports indicate that Egypt had more than 15 million tourists throughout the year. That was a 15% increase over the numbers from 2009. For years, the country saw their tourism dollars growing by leaps and bounds, increasing by as much as 80% between the years of 2005 and 2010, according to statistics kept by the Egyptian Tourist Authority.
All of that came to a crashing halt when, for 18 days, the world was captivated by the sights and sounds of the Egyptian population rising up against the dictatorial rule of Hosni Mubarak. Of course, you know the results of that revolution. The chains of oppression were cast aside and efforts have been made to turn Egypt into a Middle Eastern democracy.
On February 1, 2011, the State Department of the United States instructed all non-emergency U.S. government employees and their families to leave the country of Egypt. They then advised all U.S. travelers to leave, as well. Tour operators and travel companies worked in conjunction with the U.S. government to ensure that all U.S. tourists who were in the country at that time were safe. Then, the world waited to see what happened.
Now, the political climate in Egypt has settled. While there is still much work to be done to get the country running smoothly again, the political situation has vastly improved. Elections will be held later in 2011 and constitutional reforms have been promised. Change is under way. However, one thing that has not returned to normal is the one thing that Egypt truly needs to get back on its feet and become the country that we all hope it can become: tourism.
The wonders of Egypt are many. For decades, it has been a dream destination for tourists looking for that once-in-a-lifetime vacation. It has some of the most iconic tourist destinations in the world. The mysteries of Egypt fascinate the West and it is no wonder that touring displays of the archeological findings related to the Pharaohs have sold out across the world, wherever they are shown.
All of those wonders are still there. Yes, the Egyptian Museum, located in the heart of Cairo, was looted during the crisis. However, the objects that ended up missing, totaling some 54 pieces, were not well-known. They may have been priceless as far as history is concerned, but the average tourist would not likely realize that they were gone. To paraphrase one tourist minister's statement, the Pyramids and Sphinx are still standing where they always have been. They have not been moved.
To understand how vital tourism is to Egyptian society, you need to look at the numbers from before the unrest in January. The Egyptian Tourism Authority estimates that the country earned about 11% of its gross domestic product through tourist dollars alone. Directly or indirectly, the tourism industry employed around 2.5 million people throughout the country. Tourism affects every employee at the hotels in Egypt, the souvenir salesmen, the camel-ride operators at the scenic sites, the people who manage the stalls in the bazaars and much, much more. When you factor in each family that is potentially affected by the loss of tourism dollars, you see the population totals rise to somewhere near the 10 million mark.
The estimates as to what the country lost, in terms of tourism dollars, during the month of February, are still not entirely known. Some experts say it was in the neighborhood of $700 million. The actual total of lost revenue, between January 25 and now, is probably in the billions of dollars.
If there is one thing a new country, trying to create an entirely new system of government, needs it is the money to make sure the country continues to run. It is a strange kind of paradox. The country needs the dollars tourists bring in to remain stable, but the fear of instability keeps tourists away which, in turn, lays the foundation for more instability in the future.
The West has a vested interest in keeping Egypt stable for a variety of reasons. More importantly, they have a vested interest in ensuring that Egypt becomes a democracy. Many average citizens wonder what they can do to support the new government, the people who fought for it, and to help the country move towards democratic leadership. One of the best ways to help is by pumping tourism dollars into the economy.
Now would probably be the best time to take that dream vacation to Egypt. Tour operators and travel agencies across the country are discounting their trips and tours to Egypt. Many of them were booked through 2013, and beyond, prior to the unrest and now they are looking at empty booking calendars. Two major economic sectors, the U.S. travel industry and Egypt itself, stand to benefit from re-establishing tourist ties.
It would be easy for the average traveler to sit back and wait and hope that the governments of the world pour money into Egypt. And the governments of the world will likely do just that, over time. However, more immediately, the average person can do their part by putting their own money into the Egyptian economy and take that trip that they have always dreamed about. A world of wonders is still waiting, nestled in the Egyptian desert, and a country experiencing a dramatic rebirth is waiting just as anxiously.