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2015 was a boom year for global tourism, but a bust for Egypt
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International tourism hit record levels worldwide in 2015, growing by 4.4 percent year-on-year to reach almost 1.2 billion tourists worldwide, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. Battered by local and regional events, Egypt failed to capture a share of that bounty. Instead, according to remarks by the tourism minister this week, the number of foreign visitors fell by 6 percent over the year, with just 9.3 international arrivals during 2015. Revenue plunged even faster, down by 15 percent year-on-year.

Official tourist arrival numbers for December have not been released, but Tourism Minister Hesham Zaazou’s figures for the full year suggest that around 412,000 tourists arrived during the month. That would put December as the third weakest month for tourism since the January 25 revolution.

tourist graph, tentative December.JPG

Tourist arrivals by month, 2013-2015

The only months with fewer reported arrivals were February 2011, when the revolution was still in progress, and September 2013, when much of the country was under curfew after the violent dispersal protests at Cairo’s Rabea al-Adaweya and Nahda squares.

“International tourism reached new heights in 2015. The robust performance of the sector is contributing to economic growth and job creation in many parts of the world,” said UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai in a press statement.

The Middle East region, which includes Egypt as well as booming destinations like the United Arab Emirates, saw annual growth of around 3 percent to reach 54 million tourists in 2015, according to UNWTO data.

Egypt, too, began 2015 with positive growth in year-on-year arrival numbers from January to July, despite economic troubles in Russia reducing purchasing power for Russian tourists, a key source market for Egypt’s Red Sea resorts.

Arrivals began to slow in August, and took a dramatic fall after two attacks on tourists. In September, the Egyptian military accidentally attacked a convoy of Mexican tourists in the Western Desert, killing 12 people. In October, a Russian passenger plan crashed in the Sinai peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State, and Russia and other countries concluded the crash was due to terrorism, although Egypt has denied the airplane was brought down by foul play.

Flight bans imposed by Russia, the United Kingdom and several individual airlines have led to losses of LE2.2 billion a month, according to Zaazou.

Even before the steep decline in arrivals, Egypt suffered from a decline in spending by tourists who have come to the country. Zaazou stated that tourist receipts fell far faster than arrivals, dropping by 15 percent while the number of nights spent in the country dropped by 14 percent.

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