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dusty necropolis south of Cairo, has become instrumental in Egypt's fightback
against a tourist slump.
It's been an extraordinary
year for archaeological discoveries at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, where
separate finds have unearthed scores of sarcophagi and a host of artifacts,
including an obelisk and a unique, bejeweled statue of the god Nefertum.
This, following the reopening
of the 4,700-year-old Djoser's Step Pyramid in March after a 14-year, $6.6 million restoration.
In early October, 59 sarcophagi, around 2,500 years old, were uncovered.
Wonderfully preserved with their original colors and hieroglyphs, their
unveiling was an opportunity to reach a prized audience: tourists. Alongside
press, Egypt's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities invited dozens of foreign
ambassadors, who subsequently shared images and details across social media.
"The discovery entered
into the hearts of everyone all over the world," former minister of
antiquities Zahi Hawass tells CNN.
"I think the ambassadors
really sent a message to their countries about the pleasures of Egypt, because
we need tourists to come back."
Tourism in Egypt had been
growing in recent years, according to Kevin Graham, Egypt editorial manager at
research and advisory company Oxford Business Group (OBG). "At the beginning of
2020 there was the expectation that this growth trend would continue," he
Then the pandemic happened.
International flights were suspended in March along with the closing of archaeological sites
and museums. Commercial flights didn't resume until July.
OBG calculates tourism
contributed over 9% of Egypt's GDP in 2019, and while domestic tourism has
continued to an extent, Graham adds, international tourism plummeted.
International Monetary Fund (IMF) has downgraded its forecast for tourism
expenditure in Egypt this fiscal year from $17.8 billion to $2.7 billion.
Egypt has had more than
107,000 confirmed cases and more than 6,200 deaths from Covid-19 at the time of
writing, and more than 1,00 cases in the past week, per John Hopkins
New deaths and cases peaked in June.
While the pandemic rumbles on,
the tourism sector is regrouping.
In July, a smattering of attractions reopened
including the Great Pyramids of Giza, along with hotels issued with
government safety certificates indicating they met World Health Organization
In September, more archaeological sites reopened, and the
Egyptian government announced further measures to support the sector, including
extending visa fee exemptions for tourist hotspots Luxor, Aswan, the Red Sea
and South Sinai until April 2021, and delaying repayments on utility bills and
debts for tourism-related companies.
Amr Karim, general manager
for Travco Travel,
one of Egypt's largest travel operators, says after a "drastic
decline," the past three months have seen a "gradual increase in
beach holidays," with bookings coming from across Europe.
Visitors to Egypt are
currently required to present a negative PCR test certificate on arrival, taken no more than 72
hours prior to their flight departure, although arrivals at some airports on the coast are allowed to take a $30
PCR test then quarantine until they receive their results.
Travco is implementing WHO
regulations and is disinfecting hotel rooms, public spaces and vehicles, while
staff are using face masks, sanitizing tools and social distancing. Karim notes
the proportion of elderly travelers is down while there's been a rise in
travelers under 50, and that tourists are, by and large, sticking to their
anticipates a "boom" in tourism to ancient sites by the third quarter
"The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has been exerting
monumental efforts in the last few years to enhance and shed light on Egypt's
archaeological treasures," Karim says, citing new archaeological sites,
events including the parade of 22 royal
mummies from the Egyptian Museum to their new
home at National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, and the construction of the
Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM).
After years of groundwork, these efforts will culminate in the
opening of the GEM in 2021. Cairo's vast new museum -- nearly half a million
square meters and built at a cost of over $1 billion --
is nearing completion close to the site of the Pyramids of Giza.
The treasures within will include an 83-ton, 20-meter (66 feet) granite statue
of Ramses the Great and over 5,000 artifacts from King Tutankhamun's burial
chamber -- the first time the blockbuster haul will be displayed in the same
"It is hard to make any predictions in the status quo,"
says Karim. "It all depends on the medical revelations and vaccines in
progress to combat the Covid-19 pandemic ... We are hoping for the best."
Hawass remains bullish -- understandable, given he's been
involved with the GEM for two decades -- and
is optimistic 2021 will be better than 2020.
"I really think that
Egypt is more safe than other countries," he says. "We need tourists