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Luring the tourists back?
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 06 - 02 - 2015

Egypt's tourism industry has not fully recovered from the effects of political instability in the immediate post-revolutionary years. Although tourism revenues rose 27 per cent in 2014 to $7.5 billion, up from $5.9 billion the previous year, they remain at half the figure registered in 2010.
The new head of the Egypt Tourism Authority (ETA), Sami Mahmoud, is developing strategies to bring the tourists back. He wants to create a more efficient organisation, as he explains in an interview with the Weekly.
What are your plans to boost tourism to Egypt?
First, we are working on the Arab region. There has been a marked increase in the number of Arab visitors to Egypt as a result of the even-handed policies of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, which we have translated into promotional efforts. These have led to a surge in the number of visitors, especially from Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, as well as from Jordan and Lebanon.
Second, there is a focus on Eastern Europe. Russia is the biggest market for tourism to Egypt, but the recent devaluation of the Russian currency could lead to a reduction in Russian tourism. We are trying to address this situation through the Egyptian-Russian Business Council and government channels, and we are getting in touch directly with Russian tour operators. In addition, we are seeking a larger share of the substantial and continually growing Polish market.
On a third front, we are working with Western Europe, which represents nearly 70 per cent of the tourism market. We are targeting Germany, Italy, the UK and France in particular. We are also trying to reach out to more distant markets in Latin America, including Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, as well as in Asia, including India, China and Japan. We are actively promoting Egypt as a tourist destination in Japan, for example, and an exhibition will be held in Japan of the King Tut collection later this year.
What are your plans for promotional campaigns in 2015?
We are issuing tenders for the design of a promotional tourism campaign. The tenders, in the amount of $30 million to $40 million, will take three or four months to prepare. The reason it takes so long is that various financial, administrative, legal and technical measures have to be taken into account first.
Tourism is booming in places like Dubai, which have none of Egypt's attractions. How do you explain that?
There is a gap in resources between Dubai and Egypt. The promotional budgets are very different. For example, the New Year celebrations in Dubai went straight into the Guinness Book of World Records. As Al-Ahram reported at the time, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was illuminated from top to bottom with the latest visual effects as part of the celebrations. In Paris, the cost of the New Year celebrations was nearly 600,000 euros. In comparison, Egypt spends an average of only $26 million on tourism promotion each year. The political and security situation in Egypt over the past three years has also been different from that in Dubai.
Our tourism potential is enormous, in terms of culture and entertainment, but we need to do more about problems like pollution, cleanliness, traffic and tourism awareness. I believe that the government should pool its resources to resolve these issues, which are harming our otherwise excellent chances. We need to bring our services, cleanliness, attitudes and traffic problems up to competitive standards. Egypt should get 30 million or so tourists a year, and we have the infrastructure to handle that.
European tourists — the Germans, Italians, British, and French who make up nearly 70 per cent of the tourist market — expect to be offered the same level of services in Egypt as they get in their own countries. The number of countries competing for the tourism market is also increasing every year, and nearly 120 countries are now trying to outdo each other in terms of the quality of tourism services.
How will last week's attacks in North Sinai affect plans to boost tourism?
The attacks will have a negative effect on the market. We are now collecting reports from our tourism offices abroad about the expected range of this effect, whether it will be limited or not. Within a maximum of a week we will find out the effect on reservations to Egypt.
Do you expect tourism to improve after the formation of the next parliament?
Yes. I expect a definite surge in tourism after the next parliament is formed, as tourists want to know that the countries they are visiting are safe and stable. This step will be helpful in terms of attracting tourists to Egypt. We received around 10 million tourists in 2014, and we expect the number to reach 13.5 million by the end of 2015. If this happens then we are heading in the right direction and may reach the record number of the around 14 million tourists we saw in 2010, our peak year. This year could be the beginning of a new boom.

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