By Abdel Razeq Al-Shweikhy
“The tourism sector is only operated at 20% capacity after the January 25 Revolution,” began Minister of Tourism Monir Fakhry Abdel Nour, emphasizing that his Ministry is aiming for a return to the tourism numbers of 2010, in which the sector had 14.7 million visitors and revenues of EGP 12.5bn.
Abdel Nour said that satisfaction with the results of the ballot box should guarantee the flow of international tourism to Egypt in the near term, as tourism and stability, both in politics and security, are “two faces of the same coin.”
Abdel Nour linked the goal of reaching the previous year’s tourism figures with the restoration of stability, saying that recent political events and the breakdown of security had turned the Ministry’s workers into “a fireman putting out fires left and right” without the chance to catch his breath, in his words.
He said that his Ministry has begun to enter new markets in Latin America and East Asia via new marketing tools and flights to Brazil and Japan, with the possibility of marketing jointly in the region after the return of political stability.
He added that a number of sector regulations had recently been issued domestically, especially ones subjecting restaurants to the authority and supervision of the Ministry of Tourism, which should raise the quality of tourism service and provide tax revenues exceeding EGP 1.5bn annually.
Abdel Nour predicted that tourists visiting Egypt during May and June would decline from this year’s first quarter, which saw about 2.5 million tourists. He attributed this to foreign tourism companies’ fear of organizing trips to Egypt during possible fallout from the presidential elections, that is, acts of violence in either the first or second round. He pointed out, though, that the first round was free of violence.
He added that the month of May saw growth of 19% in the number of foreign tourists, with 850,000 tourists compared with 807,000 during the same period of the previous year. He predicted that this would continue through June.
In this year’s first quarter, the sector saw 2.5 million tourists, a 40% increase from the same period of the previous year. Abdel Nour emphasized that these positive indicators confirm that Egyptian tourism is on its way to recovery. He said, “We’re on the right road, and we hope that no violence will happen in the near term.”
The Minister of Tourism linked the growth of tourism this year with the Egyptian street’s acceptance of the results of the presidential elections, regardless of who wins, saying, “We need to be satisfied with the President, whoever he is, as long as he came via the ballot box on which we are relying.”
He said, “The Ministry is working in extremely difficult conditions, and it has become like a fireman putting out fires right and left.” In addition to the fear abroad of visiting Egypt and the country’s economic conditions, there is also the security situation, which drives the sector’s ups and downs. This quarter’s global map of tourist visitors to Egypt has not changed much from the map of the main markets sending tourists to Egypt annually.
He explained that Russia is at the forefront, accounting for 20% of tourists, while Britain contributes 10%, with the French, Polish and Italian markets coming behind. The statistics also confirm that Eastern Europe has been leading travel to the country during the first half of 2012.
Abdel Nour continued that Egypt holds a not inconsiderable share of the traditional markets, especially the English market. The English market is generally stable and shows strong demand for tourism to Egypt all year long. It was the only market which did not issue a ban on travel to Egypt for its citizens after the January 25 Revolution.
He said that the Ministry has worked to improve the promotional campaigns in traditional markets. While this has positively affected travel coming from these markets, they have approached saturation, meaning that any future growth from them will be limited. The Ministry aims to double the number of tourists to Egypt to 30 million by 2020, bringing tourism revenues exceeding $25bn. It is working towards doubled rates of growth of 15% annually, with a focus is on new markets, according to Abdel Nour.
The Minister pointed to obtaining Cabinet approval for granting visas on arrival to some nationalities coming to Egypt, as well as granting Russian tourists three-month waivers. He expected that these measures would help strengthen the flow of tourism.
The Ministry aims to raise the number of Russian visitors to more than 3 million in 2012. He said that new tourism markets represented great hope for Egyptian tourism in the coming period, especially markets in East and South Asian and Latin American. He said that the Ministry of Tourism had already put in place a number of plans to target these markets which are currently in the process of being implemented.
He added “we succeeded in adding a weekly flight between Tokyo and Cairo and we hope to add two more weekly flights between the two cities.The Ministry is also in the process of adding a flight between Cairo and Osaka, the second largest Japanese city after Tokyo, in cooperation with the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Abdel Nour called for the establishment of airlines for the tourism sector, benefiting from the knowledge gained by the experience of other countries such as Turkey, which counts more than 20 million arrivals yearly. He regarded as unlikely the participation of the Ministry of Tourism in establishing these companies as the Ministry’s role is limited to overseeing the sector by setting strategy and providing the appropriate climate in which to implement it.
He said that the Ministry adopted non-traditional methods to target the new markets in Latin America such as communication tools like Facebook, global tourism websites, magazines, and special programming. From another angle, the Ministry agreed with other countries of the region such as Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan to participate in joint marketing. The agreements, however, have not yet been implemented because of the economic and political conditions that currently prevail in the region. Egypt Air is preparing to open weekly flights to Brazil starting in July.
The Ministry expects that the new line will increase arrivals from Latin America by facilitating more agreements with other countries in the region. As for Nile tourism between Luxor and Cairo, it is decided that trips will resume this month after a stoppage that lasted more than 15 months. During that time, the Ministry devoted all of its energies to bringing back the trips. The Minister said that the trips will help to raise the rates at which tourists spend money as they will attract high spending tourists from all markets.
He said the trips will lead to an increase in hotel employment in the interior regions, especially in Luxor and Aswan. He said that he expected fewer tourists from Arab countries during the summer season and Ramadan in light of their poor impression of the security situation in Egypt because of how it has been treated in the local and regional news media. He expected less tourism from Arab countries despite their being one of the most important sources of visitors to Egypt.
He made clear his hope for a rise in Arab tourist spending during the summer months and especially during Ramadan which will see a number of events and parties thrown with the goalof raising visitor rates. In addition, the Ministry is preparing to send a delegation to other North African Arab countries in cooperation with the Chamber of Tourism Companies in order to promote tourism in Egypt.
He added “We cannot stop promoting tourism in light of the crisis that has ravaged the sector, and as such I don’t understand the criticisms of the funds we have allocated to that end, especially since we have not increased the budget for tourism promotion despite the huge efforts we have made this year.” He added that tourism promotion does not cost the state anything, as the yearly budget equals EGP 40bn dollars. He said the funds go towards promoting tourism in international conferences and that the Ministry’s offices abroad are currently being restructured.