Pyramids Plateau overhaul hopes to revive Egypt tourism sector

Sunday 16/10/2016
A man waits for tourists to rent his camel in front of the Great Giza pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo. (Reuters)

Cairo - Egypt has started its larg­est modernisation of the Giza Pyramids Plateau and its surroundings, pinning hopes that the project will return the area to the tourist map.
The project, according to the An­tiquities Ministry, will revolutionise the nature of the plateau and the surrounding area and alter services offered tourists. The project will cost $22.5 million, which will be paid by the Tourism Ministry.
“This is a dream project that will change this area altogether to make it fit the importance of the pyramids as exquisite antiquities,” said Wael Fathi, the Antiquities Ministry of­ficial supervising the project. “It will bring the Giza pyramids back to their former glories.”
The Giza pyramids were once an irresistible magnet for tourists vis­iting Cairo. However, now tourists have been omitting them from their Cairo itineraries because of the dis­organised nature of the plateau and its surroundings.
As tourists approach the pyra­mids area, camel and horse owners pester them to take rides for exag­gerated prices. Hawkers can be seen everywhere, pushing fake products on visitors.
At the entrance to the Pyramids Plateau there is a barn where a large number of camels and horses are kept and is the source of a nearly intolerable odour. On the plateau and on the way to the pyramids and Sphinx, the tour is rarely enjoyable due to the scorching heat.
The modernisation project seeks to end these problems, the Antiqui­ties Ministry said. The animal barn is to be moved far from the plateau entrance. The ministry added that several restaurants, cafeterias and service centres would be estab­lished in the area.
Antiquities experts said the pro­ject will bring back the lost allure of the Pyramids Plateau.
“The Pyramids Plateau is almost Egypt’s most important tourist site, which is why it must be given due attention,” said Abdel Halim Nour Eddin, an antiquities expert who participated in designing the mod­ernisation project. “The pyramids area needs to turn into an open mu­seum that showcases Egypt’s most famous antiquity.”
Financing is one of the challenges facing the project, Fathi said. With revenues from tourism falling and Egypt suffering its toughest eco­nomic crisis in decades, the Tour­ism Ministry does not have spare funds for the project, he added.
Egypt’s tourism sector was hit hard by a series of recent tragedies, including the October 2015 bombing of a Russian passenger plane over Sinai. The bombing led to a series of flight suspensions to Egypt’s resorts and tourist sites, which crippled the tourism sector. It contributes more than 11% of the country’s national income and employs more than 2.6 million people.
Tourism visits in April 2016 were off 74% compared with April 2015, the Tourism Ministry said, adding that in June, 329,000 foreign tour­ists visited Egypt, compared with 820,000 in June last year.
The drop in tourist arrivals and the revenues they generate exposed vulnerabilities in the Egyptian economy, deprived the national budget of much-needed cash and exacerbated unemployment. To make up for the losses, Egypt plans a series of austerity measures, in­cluding slashing a sizeable portion of subsidies, and is seeking a loan from the International Monetary Fund.
The Pyramids Plateau modernisa­tion project will include creating a new entrance to the area, away from traffic congestion, and the introduc­tion of an electric train to take tour­ists to places in the plateau. Fathi said the train will drop tourists at the exact places where they want to spend time and take photos.
He added that documentaries and information about the pyramids, their builders and Egypt’s history would be shown.
Tourism experts said when the pyramids are back on Egypt’s tour­ism map, they will revive the tour­ism movement in Cairo.
They added, that in recent years, many tourists stayed away from Cairo and limited their presence in Egypt to either the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada or the southern ancient city of Luxor.
“Bringing the lost allure back to the Giza pyramids will mean a lot for the tourism business in Cairo,” said tourism expert Ehab Moussa. “In the past, some people travelled thousands of miles to Egypt from their home countries only to visit the pyramids but this disappeared in recent years because of deterio­rating conditions in the pyramids area.”