"Tourism is an extremely sensitive sector, especially as concerns security and public order issues. Every time the situation in the streets is calm, the flow of tourists increases, while every time there are problems, cancellations rise,'' said the minister, who despite the January 2011 uprising and the presidential elections claims he is optimistic on the outlook for such a key industry for Egypt.
In the first four months of 2012 there was a 52% increase in presences compared with the same period in 2011. In the month of April, overnight stays by visitors from Italy rose by 151%, going from 316,504 in the same month in 2011 to 795,111. Abdel Nour admits that the comparison is not as significant as it could seem initially, since the first quarter of 2011 was the one in which the January uprising and the resulting sharp drop in tourism to the country occurred.
''However, there is substantial improvement, and those working in the sector tell me that the outlook for the future is extremely optimistic. We are very confident of the trend to be seen beginning in July, if all goes well at the elections between now and June.'' The minister said that the aim is to rake in the same number of presences as those seen in 2010, when there was a record high in Egypt with 14 million tourists in the country.
''Between January and April,'' he stressed, ''we had 3.6 million presences, and we are hoping that in the other eight months we will manage to recover the other ten million. We are stepping up capacity in airports, and especially in Red Sea ones, and between the end of May and the beginning of June we expect to bring back the long cruise on the Nile between Cairo and Aswan, suspended since 1994.''
The sharp drop in presences is immediately visible on going to some of the most popular tourist sites in the world - such as the Pyramids and Cairo's Egyptian Museum. This month saw capacity used at 40%, according to the manager of a large hotel in the centre of the Egyptian capital, but immediately after the uprising the figure had instead dropped as low as 19%.
The minister had reassuring words concerning the impact on tourism of Islamic movements, following statements that alcohol would be banned and that men and women would have to use separate beaches. ''Some of the statements of new political groups have given rise to concern on foreign markets, and I believe that they were made without an in-depth knowledge of the importance of tourism to our economy. However, most of them were corrected after more careful examination, and this has restored confidence from abroad in the sector,'' the minister said, carefully measuring his words.
Reported by www.egyptlastminute.com