Can Egypt’s new airport revive country’s ailing tourism sector?

Egypt opened a new international airport in Giza governorate as part of the government’s efforts to boost the tourism sector that suffered a major setback following the January 25 Revolution.

al-monitor A police officer walks in front of the entrance to the new Sphinx International Airport in west Cairo, Jan. 26, 2019. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.

Feb 4, 2019

Egypt launched on Jan. 25 a trial operation of a new international airport in Giza governorate in an attempt to boost the country’s tourism industry. The airport is near the Giza Pyramids and the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2020.

The Sphinx International Airport received the first flight from Aswan International Airport on Jan. 25, in the first official trial run for the new airport.

Economists and tourism experts have highlighted the airport’s high standards and strategic location, which they say will give a big boost to the tourism industry.

The airport is 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the Giza pyramids. Experts say its location is widely expected to contribute to promoting one-day tourism trips from hotels and resorts in the area due to its proximity to tourist attractions in Cairo and Giza.

“Now, one-day tourism trips will increase. Moreover, there are no charter flights that land at Cairo International Airport, while the Sphinx airport will receive these low-cost flights that attract a large number of tourists,” Alaa el-Ghamry, a tourism expert and former member of the Egyptian Travel Agents Association, told Al-Monitor.

He said the airport would ease pressure on Cairo International Airport, which is the largest in the country. “The Sphinx airport will also be better than other nearby airports such as Borg al-Arab, which is located in Alexandria, in terms of its capabilities,” Ghamry said.

According to data released by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Sphinx airport's main terminal building, air control tower and dozens of service buildings spread over an area of ​​25,500 square meters (275,000 square feet). 

The airfield spans an area of 126,800 square meters (31 acres), which can accommodate nine aircraft.

Officials said the airport is equipped with the latest thermal surveillance cameras in the world. 

The main terminal accommodates 300 passengers per hour and a group of international hotels is set to be built in the vicinity of the airport in order to serve incoming tourists.

The airport also has four electricity substations and a meteorological building, as well as a mosque and a parking garage that can accommodate hundreds of cars.

The Egyptian armed forces and the Egyptian Investment Company carried out the project, in which 200 engineers, 35 consultants and 2,500 workers participated, according to data released by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Work on the project lasted 12 months, with 12-hour workdays, at a cost of about 300 million Egyptian pounds (about $17 million).

Ghamry said the commencement of airport operations coincides with an upgrade of the pyramids area and the launch of new nearby hotels to offer high-quality services catering to tourists.

“The airport comes as part of a wider plan to provide all necessary facilities and services near major tourist attractions. Also, the building of any airports in the vicinity of tourist attractions would definitely be of great benefit to Egypt’s tourism sector and the launch of this airport holds special importance as it is located near the Grand Egyptian Museum, which will draw in a great number of tourists,” he said.

Ali Kamel Mansour, head of the Tourism Buildings Chamber in the Nile Delta, lauded the opening of the airport, but he said the government should also build airports in other areas, including in the Nile Delta.

“Many foreign tourists would be interested in countryside tourism as Egypt has much beautiful and distinguished greenery in the countryside,” Mansour told Al-Monitor.

“Providing means of transportation, most importantly airports, is an integral part of boosting any country’s tourism because they facilitate access to different parts of the country. Moreover, they will generate more revenues for the country whether in terms of travel or tourism,” he added.

The Egyptian government has been ramping up efforts to breathe life into the country’s tourism industry after it dramatically declined following the January 25 Revolution and the crash of a chartered Russian airplane in the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015.

However, in 2018, the industry saw a noticeable revival. According to Egytpian Cabinet data, revenues from the tourism sector jumped from $4.4 billion in fiscal year 2016/2017 to $9.8 billion in fiscal year 2017/2018, an increase of 123%.

Ahmed el-Shami, an economist and professor of feasibility studies at Ain Shams University, said the opening of the airport is a long-awaited move as the area surrounding it holds special importance in terms of tourism.

“The pyramids area has long been neglected by successive governments, but now the current government is paying due attention to it and is moving ahead with a well-knit strategy to develop it and offer all necessary facilitations, including travel,” Shami told Al-Monitor. “This will lead to a noticeable progress in the tourism sector and consequently will add to the country’s financial resources.”

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