THE tourism industry has long been considered one of the pillars of the Egyptian economy. More than one million Egyptians earn their living directly from tourism, and millions more in the construction, furnishing, catering and carpet-making industries rely on it. Revenues reached US$3 billion in the 1991/92 financial year, and the number of visitors climbed to 3.2 million, a 44 per cent increase over the previous year. Growth over the last five years has averaged 13.6 per cent, twice the world average. The reason for such growth is not hard to find. Egypt is promoting its new resorts on the spectacular Red Sea coast in tandem with the traditional tourist spots like the pyramids and the sphinx. For decades, the idea of tourism in Egypt was limited. Visitors would spend a few days around Cairo and go to Luxor and Karnak. New developments along the 1,900-kilometre Red Sea shoreline offer five-star facilities, clear waters, deserted beaches and coral reefs set against a backdrop of spectacular mountain scenery. Hurghada, capital of the Red Sea governorate, now ranks as one of the world's premier water-sport centres. It is four hours by coach from Luxor. A string of resorts along the Gulf of Aqaba - Taba, Nuweiba, Dahab, Nabq and Sharm al Sheikh - has sprung up in the last decade, bringing the stunning mountains of the southern Sinai within easy reach. The range of new destinations has had an effect on the length of holiday stays. In 1984, the average length of stay of international visitors to Egypt was six nights. By 1992, it was eight. As part of the government's privatisation drive, more than 25 government-owned hotels, many enjoying prime locations but suffering from neglect, have been turned over to private sector management or ownership in the past 10 years. Right across the country, hotel renovations and expansion have brought significant increases in both the number and the grade of rooms. In 1985, there were 25,000 hotel rooms. By 1991, that had increased to 53,000 rooms. Now, there are more than 75,000. The role of the Tourism Development Authority (TDA) parallels that of the General Authority for Investment, which focuses on manufacturing industry. The TDA has overall responsibility for the planning, co-ordination and promotion of new tourist developments and assists potential investors identify and pursue business opportunities.