Egypt’s tourism sector is eying a gradual recovery after revenues plunged by nearly 70% to $4 billion in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism minister and travel companies said.

The number of tourists visiting Egypt sank to 3.5 million last year from 13.1 million in 2019, Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany told Reuters. Foreign occupancy rates in Egyptian hotels dropped to just 10-15% of 2019 levels.

Tourism accounts for up to 15% of Egypt’s national output, and is a key source of foreign currency.

Officials have been unveiling new archaeological discoveries in an effort to revive visitor numbers, and hope the delayed opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum next to the pyramids, expected later this year, will help the sector recover.

“The goal right now is not to count the number of tourists but to have it be said that Egypt is a safe tourist destination during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Enany.

Of 1,200 hotels, 700 have licenses to operate under current health restrictions, said Enany.

Egypt plans to start Covid-19 vaccinations this month after approving China’s Sinopharm vaccine, but it was unclear how quickly the programme could be rolled out.

“In 2021, with the vaccine, the recovery will be incremental,” said Mohamed Farouq, chief executive of travel agency Egypt Express. “It will be slow … until this virus is totally controlled.”

On Sunday, Egypt’s central bank extended waivers on debt interest payments for tourist companies and other businesses until the end of June.

After a second wave of infections in Egypt in December, even bookings that had been postponed were cancelled, said Elhamy Mostafa of Emeco Travel.

“We know that the problem isn’t only Egypt, the tourist cannot travel. Or if he comes back home, he will have to quarantine,” said Mostafa. “This problem will persist.”

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text)

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