By ADAM SCHRECK, Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Egypt's visitor numbers should bounce back to pre-uprising levels this year after a drop caused by Arab Spring unrest, the country's tourism minister said Monday.
The country is eager to entice overseas visitors back following the 2011 ouster of longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak because the tourism industry is a major source of jobs and foreign currency.
Speaking at a hotel industry conference in Dubai, Egyptian Tourism Minister Mounir Abdel-Nour said the sunny North African destination aims to attract 14.5 million tourists this year.
That would put it close to the 14.7 million tourist level that Egypt drew in 2010.
"We are confident that the future will be much better than the past," Abdel-Nour said. "It is not difficult to explain this in an environment where democracy prevails, and where there's more transparency, less corruption."
Visitor numbers plunged by a third last year as travelers made nervous by violent street protests avoided the pyramids, beaches and other sites for which Egypt is known.
Abdel-Nour said the tourism industry is "doing everything in the book" to woo visitors again. For example, it is trying to attract more charter airlines and discount carriers, and rolling out new offerings like longer Nile cruises, he said.
The capital Cairo, home to the Sphinx and pyramids of Giza, still struggles to attract the number of tourists it did before the uprising, Abdel-Nour said. So do southern destinations such as Luxor, a popular site of ancient Pharaonic temples along the Nile.
But Red Sea beach hotspots such as Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada are enjoying a substantial increase in visitors, he said.
Abdel-Nour insisted that Egypt remains safe for tourists. Outside of the frequent protest hub of Tahrir Square in central Cairo, he said, the country is "fully secured. ... Law and order prevails."
He also dismissed concerns that the growing influence of Islamists — who now dominate parliament — might damage the country's largely carefree reputation, saying for example that the country's hotels were not at risk of going alcohol-free.
"If this happens, I will not be there," he joked. "The tourism sector is too strong and too important for Egypt to be jeopardized by wrong decisions taken by this or that political party," he added.
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