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Egyptian tourist industry casts doubts on government data that includes Libyan refugees among tourists entering the country in 2011.
17.01.12 | Interesting article at Ahram Online

Egypt's better-than-expected tourism results for 2011 have been met with disbelief by many in the industry.

Official results showed 2011 tourism revenues fell by a third compared to 2010, but workers and company owners report a much larger drop in business volume due to ongoing political and social unrest in the country.

"The figures don’t reflect reality," Reda Dawood, owner of the Lucky Tours tourist agency told Ahram Online. "The ministry does not aggregate figures from the industry but from the border authority."

Egypt's minister of tourism announced on Sunday that the number of tourist arrivals in 2011 fell by an annual 33 per cent to just over 9.5 million.

"If I just take my company as an example, I’ve seen a drop in customers of close to 90 per cent and other companies have seen similar plunges," Dawood explained.

Reda's company deals mainly with Turkish tourists who focus on the Red Sea beach resorts, Luxor and Aswan.

The number of tourists visiting Egypt is aggregated from the number of non-Egyptians entering Egypt and spending more than 24 hours inside the country. Obviously, this number does not differentiate between visitors who benefit the tourism industry and those visiting the country for other purposes.

Ehab Moussa, head of the tourism support coalition, concurs with Dawood’s assessment. "How can we consider more than half a million Libyans fleeing war to be tourists? Not to mention the Sudanese or Palestinians."

Moussa estimates that removing Libyans from the figures would see the fall in visitors deepen to some 45 per cent, instead of the announced 33 per cent.

The numbers of Libyans visiting Egypt in 2011 surged 13 per cent, or 500,000, according to Sami Mahmoud, head of international tourism at the tourism ministry.

Visitors from Palestine increased by a third to reach 225,000 due to the partial opening of the Rafah crossing and the subsequent influx of travellers from the Gaza Strip. The number of Sudanese visitors increased by 6 per cent.

"What is the problem in considering Libyans tourists?" asked Tourism Minister Mounir Abdel Nour. "They filled hotels in Alexandria during the first half of the year, ate at the city's restaurants and spent time at its parks; why shouldn’t they be considered tourists?"

Egypt's once burgeoning tourism industry has suffered a severe blow due to unrest that followed the popular uprising that began in January 2011 and unseated long-time president Hosni Mubarak.

During the last quarter of 2011, Abdel Nour indicated, tourism was hit by deadly unrest in the heart of Cairo.

Tourists from Europe, who comprise the largest group of visitors to Egypt, dropped by 35 per cent to 7.2 million, versus 11.1 million in 2010. Russians remained the top visitors to Egypt with 1.8 million tourists, followed by the UK and Germany.