Will Egypt’s decision to impose visa fees on GCC countries affect tourism revival?

Egypt has imposed entry visa fees to its territories on GCC citizens, a decision that some say shouldn’t have been taken under the coronavirus circumstances, as tourism has been dealt a heavy blow.

al-monitor Empty deck chairs bear witness to what should have been a bustling beach at sunset on July 25, 2005, in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.

Jun 30, 2020

CAIRO — The Egyptian Ministry of Interior announced its decision to collect entry visa fees to Egyptian territories from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) citizens, specifically from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait. 

The decision, which was published in the official gazette on June 17, did not specify the value of the fee yet. Egypt has been collecting a $25 fee since 2019 from visitors who are not visa-exempt for a single entry visa, and $60 for a multiple entry visa.

The official gazette also published June 17 another decision from the Ministry of Interior to exempt tourists coming to Egypt on charter flights to touristic governorates from visa fees until Oct. 31, 2020, the end of the summer tourist season.

Hamdi al-Chami, former undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism, told Al-Monitor the decision to impose visa fees on Gulf citizens is the right one, but the timing is inconvenient. Under current circumstances, tourism must be encouraged to breathe life back into the sector, especially in light of the global coronavirus pandemic, according to Chami. The Egyptian state should have capitalized on factors to attract Arab tourism, which is important for the country because many Arab tourists flock to Cairo and coastal cities, he added.

Chami said any Egyptian citizen who wants to travel to a GCC state pays an entry visa fee, but the decision should have been taken under better circumstances. The period set until Oct. 31 for the exemption of visa fees for tourists will be enough to revive Arab and foreign tourism in coastal cities in south Sinai, Matrouh and Hurghada, he added, saying the Egyptian state is set to open sea resorts on July 1 to welcome foreign tourists.

Amr Sadki, head of the parliament’s tourism committee, said officials examined the decision before taking it and decided to treat other countries as they treat Egyptian tourists. All Egyptians pay an entry visa fee in GCC countries, and most countries in the world have also imposed fees for entering their territories. Attracting Arab tourism to Egypt won’t really be affected because tourism around the entire world is currently suspended, he said.

Sadki said the country is opening its air space to give the economy and tourism a chance to recover. But, he added, some countries, like Austria, have warned their citizens not to travel to certain states because of concerns over a second wave of the virus. He asserted that no airlines have thus far reported a resumption of flights with Egypt, except for private aviation.

He said Egypt will not welcome tourists except in south Sinai, Matrouh and Hurghada, and when they land in these cities directly, they will be exempt from visa fees. The fees will allow Egypt to boost its resources.

Sayed Khodr, an economist, told Al-Monitor that tourism is a main source of income in foreign currency, in addition to the Suez Canal and the remittances from workers abroad, which impacted the value of the Egyptian pound against other currencies. Egypt had to find alternatives and solutions, he said. Consequently, it opened the door to internal and foreign tourism to curb losses, according to Khodr, who believes that imposing entry visa fees from GCC countries will have a positive impact.

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