It’s December, 2022, and thousands of Europeans are lounging on the perennially sun-kissed beaches on Egypt’s Red Sea coast.
But just over the border in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, more industrious visitors have gathered.
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) convened their Global Summit in Riyadh from the end of November, and brought together representatives from over 60 states. There were more than 3,000 delegates in all, including the Georgian head of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Zurab Pololikashvili.
According to a press release from the WTTC, the unanimous conclusion of the summit’s attendees was that “global travel is back.”
After over two years of pandemic-related travel restrictions—which are still ongoing in some parts of the world—the results are in: tourism is again a significant contributor to the global economy.
In the words of WTTC President & CEO Julia Simpson, “of every ten dollars in the world, one dollar comes from travel and tourism.”
Though she was commenting generally, this figure is exactly correct for Egypt, one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
Home to the vestiges of ancient Egyptian civilization, unrivaled snorkeling and diving, desert adventure tours, and much more, it remains a source of continued interest for Western and Arab tourists.
Naturally enough, Egypt’s tourism sector was badly affected by the revolution and political upheaval in the country from 2011 on.
By 2017, the country had revitalised its tourism sector, and was back to welcoming overseas visitors.
There followed a few years of strong tourism growth and increasing revenues from the industry, until the pandemic hit and shut it all down again.
The overwhelming importance of tourism to the national economy was underlined by Egypt’s swift reopening of leisure travel in July 2020. Resort operations in the Red Sea and South Sinai Governorates and the Mediterranean Coast were resumed by Dr. Khaled El-Enany, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, who also arranged the WTTC Safe Travel stamp.
According to recent data from the UNWTO, more than 900 million tourists travelled globally in 2022, twice that of 2021.
The Middle East had the highest relative increase, back to 83% of pre-pandemic numbers.
Around the world, travel and tourism GDP contributions are growing faster than other sectors.
With the industry expected to generate over 125 million total net new jobs internationally in the next decade, its potential is clear to observers of the Egyptian economy.
The country boasts arguably the greatest monuments on earth. Near to Cairo, the nation’s capital and largest city on the continent in population terms, Giza is home to the world-famous Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx.
Further (and much further) south are Saqqara, Luxor, and Abu Simbel, which feature prominent necropolises, the renowned Valley of the Kings, and massive stone temples respectively.
On the Mediterranean coast, Alexandria is famous for its ancient Library (and modern incarnation the Bibliotheca Alexandrina), and lighthouse, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.
To finish this incomplete and wholly inadequate list of Egypt’s attractions, there is the Sinai peninsula, where visitors can recreate scenes from the bible or spend days in the idyllic beach resorts of Dahab and Sharm El-Sheikh.
But a specter hangs over the international economy in the form of climate change, a reality not lost on those who claim to represent global tourism concerns.
The other major conclusion of the WTTC conference in Riyadh was the urgent need to act on climate issues.
To this end, the organization launched a new environmental impact methodology for the sector.
President & CEO Julia Simpson noted that because of this, it will now be possible to measure the industry’s carbon impact. “We can track our footprint… it will give companies the data they need to act, and it will give governments the facts on how to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets.”
Considering the Egyptian government’s goal of increasing tourist arrivals to 30 million by 2028, these are ever-pressing issues.
But with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Egyptian Ministry of Environment, the ECO EGYPT initiative has been launched.
With the aim of promoting best practices in sustainable tourism, its Green List highlights ecolodges, hotels, and diving centres and other tourism infrastructure that have obtained an eco-label or are actively employing environmentally-friendly measures.
In addition, the Egyptian Sustainable Tourism Portal (ESTP) will provide those working in the hospitality industry with critical information on improving the green credentials of operators in the sector.
Agreements and collaboration with industry stakeholders such as the Egyptian Hotel Association (EHA) underscore the uniting effect of these preliminary initiatives.
We will see how the country fares compared to other member states in the WTTC as soon as the first SDG benchmarks are evaluated.
In the meantime, those Red Sea beaches are looking more than inviting.