Egypt competing with Spain for dwindling tourists

Wed Dec 24, 2008 10:46am EST
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By Alaa Shahine

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's tourism industry, the country's top hard currency earner, has started to feel the pinch of the global financial crisis, with hotel bookings down 30 percent in January 2009 compared to the same month in 2008.

Fathi Nour, chairman of state-owned Misr Hotels, one of the country's biggest hotel firms, said on Wednesday the global nature of the turmoil has placed Egypt in competition with top tourist destinations that may slash prices to attract visitors.

"Spain has become a competitor. It will reduce prices to attract people. Spain now is looking at Egypt as a competitor. We were not competitors before," Nour, who is also a board member of the Egyptian Hotels Association, told Reuters.

The number of visitors arriving in Egypt, home to some of the world's most famous ancient monuments such as the Pyramids of Giza, is expected to reach 13 million in 2008, 19 percent more than in 2007, the tourism ministry said in November.

In Spain, meanwhile, the number of tourist arrivals declined by 2 percent to 54.6 million people in the 11 months to November, marking another blow to the country during the collapse of residential construction and real estate sectors.

Egyptian Tourism Minister Zoheir Garrana said on Monday initial signs show that future reservations will slow down in the first few months of 2009, but he refused to give a forecast for the number of tourists expected for the whole year.

"There are still reservations that come in the last minute. But as for the reservations five or six months in advance, there is a slowdown in that," he told reporters.

Europeans account for more than 70 percent of tourists visiting Egypt every year. Nour said European destinations may now appear more attractive to tourists within the continent because of their proximity.   Continued...

<p>A man feeds his camel as he awaits tourists in front of the Giza pyramids in the outskirts of Cairo, February 8, 2008. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih</p>