GLOBAL REPORT—The Cairo hotel market has undergone a rough year after continual political uprisings throughout 2011 kept many global tourists away.
Just when the city’s hoteliers were starting to feel optimistic about a recovery, a new round of political protests in November in Downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square brought those hopes crashing down.
Rick Zeolla, GM at the Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino, said October was the best month in terms of performance since the revolution started in January.
“We were fairly confident we would have a good November and December, and then after the 19th when the next round of protests started, we did see a high level of cancellations,” he said.
The city’s hotel market began the month of November with low occupancy, just 35.9% the week ending 5 November, a 51.1% decrease from the same week in 2010, according to data from STR Global. Occupancy slightly picked up toward the end of the month, even after the start of the protests on 19 November, to 40.4% the week ending 26 November, which was still a 43.6% decrease from the 2010.
Source: STR Global
While the data does not indicate the protests had a significant negative impact on hotel occupancy throughout the month of November, several hoteliers in Cairo reported otherwise. Eman Yasaky, public relations manager for the Kempinski Nile Hotel, which is 1.2 kilometers outside of Tahrir square, said hotel performance was impacted immediately and will continue to suffer in the coming months.
“We received cancellations for around 400 roomnights the week following the protests and have lost most of our banqueting business that was confirmed for the end months,” Yasaky wrote in an email.
The Kempinski Nile lost approximately 30% of occupancy due to a large number of cancellations, on top of having experienced a halt in future bookings, Yasaky said.
Zeolla said tourists around the globe likely are cancelling their bookings as they are not getting an accurate portrayal of what actually is happening in Cairo from media outlets.
“Life in Cairo basically didn’t change from the 18th to the 19th to the 20th,” Zeolla said.
He said specific areas such as Tahrir Square, which is 2.8 kilometers from the Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino, and parts of downtown Cairo should be avoided due to the protests, but it is business as usual throughout the rest of the city.
“If I thought it was dangerous, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have my family here,” Zeolla said.
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Bruce Goodwin, president of Goodwin & Associates Hospitality Services, was not fazed by this year’s coverage of political unrest in the country and visited Cairo for a vacation two weeks before the start of the protests in November.
“The tourism has been absolutely decimated,” he said.
Goodwin said he heard several reports from those working in Cairo’s hospitality industry that 2011 is going down in the books as “one of the worst years ever.”
One of Goodwin’s tour guides explained that most of the attractions they were breezing right into once required wait times of more than an hour when the city was bustling with tourists.
Safety a top concern
Hoteliers interviewed for this report said they do not believe the ongoing political protests will put their guests or staff in danger, but they are still taking precautionary measures.
“If things spin out of control, you need a high level of control to protect your guests, hotel staff and assets,” Zeolla said.
He said executives from the Cairo Marriott sat down to revisit procedures and make sure things were in working order just in case.
Pascal Gauvin, InterContinental Hotel Group’s VP of operations for the Near East and West Africa said the safety and security of guests and staff at the InterContinental Cairo Semiramis is a top priority.
“As a result of the unrest, we have increased security in and around the InterContinental Cairo Semiramis, and we’re monitoring the situation on an ongoing basis," Gauvin wrote in an email.
Yasaky did not mention heightened security measures at the Kempinski Nile but said the hotel’s placement in the heart of the Garden City district where many embassies are located has been advantageous for the hotel.
He said the high level of street security has put their guests at ease, allowing them to enjoy higher occupancies than competitors in other areas.