Tourism booms in Upper Egypt’s Aswan after pandemic-related recession

On the morning of a sunny Spring day, dozens of boats were busy sailing back and forth in the Nile River, carrying groups of tourists visiting the Philae temples on an island in Upper Egypt’s charming city of Aswan.

Tourists coming from different countries enjoyed the beautiful weather and the marvelous buildings of the Philae temple complex with giant ancient pylons and columns overlooking the Nile.

“It’s been three days in Aswan. We went to Abu Simbel temples a little south (of Aswan). They are really beautiful places, architecture and history. It’s amazing!” Aghiles Abbad, an Algerian man living in Canada, told Xinhua.

The number of tourists in Egypt dropped to around 3.7 million in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, after it saw a boom in 2019 with over 13 million visiting the North African country, according to official data. It gradually recovered to about 8 million in 2021 and further flourished throughout 2022 to near pre-pandemic numbers.

The gradual recovery coincided with Russia’s resumption of direct flights to Egyptian Red Sea resorts in August 2021, after a six-year suspension following a 2015 deadly Russian plane crash over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

In January this year, the first Chinese tourist group since the outbreak of COVID-19 arrived in Egypt, marking the return of tourists from China, one of the most significant tourist source countries, to further boost Egypt’s tourism.

Groups of Chinese tourists led by Egyptian guides were seen visiting the Philae temples, taking photos and listening to the guide’s introduction of the ancient structures.

“I just arrived in Aswan today from Cairo, and this is the first temple I have visited. It’s really amazing and astonishing. I still cannot imagine how ancient people could build such amazing buildings,” Yu Zhi’ang, a Chinese student from China’s eastern province of Zhejiang, told Xinhua, adding visiting Egypt has been a dream since childhood.

Meanwhile, a group of Chinese tourists gathered at a cafeteria by the river in the temple complex. Zhu Huan, a young woman from China’s central province of Hunan, described the people of Aswan as “very hospitable” and the scenery as “very lovely,” adding the growing friendship between China and Egypt “boosts cultural exchanges” between the two countries.

Tourism is one of the main sources of foreign currency for Egypt, accounting for around 12 percent of the GDP. The current flourishing season brought hope and happiness to all Egyptians in the tourism sector.

“We consider it an exceptional season because it comes after a period of pandemic-related recession. This season sees a tremendous inflow of tourists, fortunately,” Saadallah Sayyid Ahmed, manager of a cafeteria at the Philae temple complex, told Xinhua.

“We have been missing the Chinese tourists and we’re welcoming their return,” he said.

In the Nubian village of Gharb Soheil, one of Aswan’s key tourist destinations, its bazaars of colorful handmade souvenirs were also crowded with tourists.

Sheila Bales, an American tourist, was having fun trying to operate a loom by imitating an Egyptian weaver at a small store before she bought a couple of colored fabrics.

“We’ve been here about a week and a half. The people are very interesting. I’ve learned a lot and seen a lot of things. So I’ve really enjoyed it,” said Bales, who was on her first visit to Egypt.

Fernanda Danirle from Italy was shopping with her husband and Australian friend. Their 10-day visit to Egypt started with a tour to the Pyramids of Giza near the capital Cairo.

“I like everything here: the sun, the people, the place and the history,” Danirle told Xinhua.

Mohamed Othman, head of a cultural tourism promotion committee, said hotel occupancy rates in monument-rich Luxor and Aswan are close to pre-pandemic ones.

“The year 2022 was excellent in terms of the number of tourists and their spending and 2023 is expected to see even higher tourist inflows,” the tourism expert told Xinhua.

by Mahmoud Fouly