Heritage tourism versus Leisure Tourism in Post- 2011 Egypt: Notes about crisis management, resilience and strategic choices

By Sandrine Gamblin
Submitted to Session P4812 (Tourism, Heritage, and the Politics of Place in the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Middle East/Near East Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The January 25 Revolution offered to the world a very different picture of Egypt, far from the usual idyllic travel postcards. More than that, it dramatically affected tourism, a strategic sector of the Egyptian economy. In 2010, 14.7 million foreigners visited the country and generated 12.5 billion dollars of revenue. In 2011, the number of visitors to Egypt dropped to 9.8 million—of which 7 million were European nationals and the hotel occupancy rate decreased by 80 to 90 percent in cultural tourism sites located in the Nile Valley. In 2014 and 2015, tourism activities showed a slight recovery, but the killing of Mexican tourists in the Western desert (September 2015), and the Russian plane crash in Sinai (October 2015) definitely ruined, both the image of Egypt on the international market, and the tourism sector.
However, the Egyptian tourism sector demonstrated in the past a strong capacity of resilience to crisis. In the 1990’s, and especially after the Luxor attack in 1997, the sector managed to recover in very few months. In the 2000’s, Egypt was also hit by several terrorist attacks, without harming the sector. However, it seems that the sector is nowadays structurally affected, and the crisis factors cannot be only attributed to the political instability, the regional situation and dramatic events, but also to the consequences of a tourism development policy that the Egyptian government has pursued for the last 20 years.
In two decades, international tourism in Egypt shifted from incentive heritage/cultural practices to leisure and seaside mass activities. Egypt has abandoned its “comparative advantage” (heritage sites) on the global market, to a more standard offer adjusted to the international demand, in accordance with a neo-liberal vision supported by international agencies. Moreover, the Egyptian strategy shifted from a qualitative to a quantitative postulate: offering more infrastructures along the coast would attract more tourists and more hard-currency revenue. In the meantime, heritage sites have been neglected, if not forgotten. Such a strategy did work for a while, but not anymore.
Here we would like to discuss the political economy of Heritage tourism in Egypt in the last two decades and the consequence of neo-liberal choices on the sector, and its primary resources, i.e. heritage, natural and cultural sites management), as a structural factor of explanation to the current crisis.