By Jonathan Wright
Russians overtake Brits as number one nationality as total rises to 9.8mn, says minister.
The number of people visiting Egypt increased more than 25 percent in the financial year 2007/8, compared with the previous year, Tourism Minister Zoheir Garrana told Reuters in an interview.
The minister declined to give the absolute figures but monthly statistics show that Egypt had about 9.8 million visitors in the financial year 2006/7.
The ministry stopped releasing monthly statistics after February this year.
The number of nights tourists spent in Egypt and the amount of tourist revenue reaching the country increased 32 percent in the year, which ended in June, the minister added.
Egypt has not yet seen any slowdown in tourism because of slower growth in the European or US economies, he said.
He added: "We anticipate a slowdown but as long as we are within the budget that potential travellers have, I think we will continue to have the growth we have witnessed in the past three years."
Egypt is a relatively cheap tourist destination but Garrana said that a combination of high inflation and a stable Egyptian pound could pose problems in the future.
The consumer price index rose 22 percent in the year to June and the Egyptian pound has appreciated about 3 percent against the dollar since the start of the year.
"Definitely cost has become a big factor in how people are coping and calculating their selling prices. If we increase the prices above a certain figure, it can have a negative impact on the flow of the industry," he said.
He said that for the sake of tourism he would like to see the pound-dollar exchange rate at seven or eight pounds to the dollar, compared with about 5.3 pounds now.
"But there are a lot of other factors that have to be taken into consideration," he added. Tourism accounted for 6.5 percent of Egypt's gross domestic product in 2007, World Bank figures show.
It employs directly or indirectly about 13 percent of the workforce. The government estimates that every extra million tourists create 200,000 new jobs.
One of the biggest growth areas has been tourism from Russia, which now accounts for more tourists to Egypt than any other country.
Russian tourists numbered 1.5 million in calendar 2007, overtaking Britain, and Garrana said he expected that to rise to 2 million in calendar 2008.
By the end of 2008 the number of hotel rooms in Egypt will increase to 240,000 from 203,000 now, meeting earlier than expected one of the six-year targets President Hosni Mubarak set in his presidential re-election campaign in 2005, he said.
"Altogether 140,000 new rooms are now being built and they will be ready over three or four years," Garrana added. (Reuters)