BERLIN (Reuters) - The number of tourists visiting Egypt this year could come close to levels seen before its 2011 uprising, encouraged by investments in airport security and a cheaper Egyptian pound, the country's tourism minister said.
Egypt's tourism industry, a crucial source of hard currency, has suffered in the years of turmoil that followed the mass protests, as well as from the suspected bombing of a Russian plane in Sinai in 2015, which killed all 224 people on board.
The number of tourists coming to Egypt's beaches and ancient sites stood at 9.3 million in 2015, compared with more than 14.7 million in 2010, while receipts stood at $6.1 billion.
"I think if we are fortunate enough, this year we will come very close. We are hoping to close the gap as we go on," Yehia Rashed told Reuters ahead of the world's biggest travel trade fair, ITB Berlin, which starts on Wednesday.
Rashed said on Tuesday he did not yet have any figures for tourist arrivals in 2016. Tourism accounts for around 11 percent of the country's economy.
In the first two months of 2017, the development of arrivals was "very, very good", he said, adding receipts were also improving as visitors spent more and stayed longer on average.
German market researcher GfK said last week that German holidaymakers' bookings for trips to Egypt in the upcoming summer season were up 91 percent from last year, but were still 23 percent below pre-uprising levels.
Egypt has been offering incentives to airlines such as easyJet and Germany's Air Berlin and tour operators such as TUI and Thomas Cook to bring more tourists to the country.
In addition, some $50 million have been invested in airport security in Egypt, with further upgrades still coming, which Rashed said should encourage tourism.
Also, the devaluation of the Egyptian pound after Egypt's central bank abandoned its currency peg to the U.S. dollar in November is making it cheaper to spend holidays in the country.
"I think (the devaluation) is significantly important as well. People want the best value for price paid," Rashed said.
Still, efforts by the Egyptian tourism sector to recover have also been frustrated by a halt on flights to Egypt from Russia following the attack on the Russian plane and a British suspension of flights to the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh.
Rashed said he was confident those travel restrictions would be lifted eventually.
(Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Alison Williams)