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Lapses in Berlin
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 12 - 04 - 2016

Egypt's participation in ITB (Internationale Tourismus-Börse) Berlin last month exposed shortcomings that the country must fix if tourism is to play its proper role as a major source of hard currency and a pillar of the economy, according to observers. The country's performance at the fair is said to be one of the main reasons behind the recent resignation of former tourism minister Hisham Zazou.
The fair attracted 120,000 commercial visitors and 26,000 ordinary visitors seeking to pick vacation spots, according to the ITB Berlin website. Some 10,000 companies from 187 countries staged exhibitions in 26 convention halls, and 200 agreements were signed at this, the world's biggest tourism fair.
Topics of discussion this year included ideas for internationalising the tourism industry and the digitisation of tourism-related operations. India, for example, announced at the fair that it will begin offering electronic visas. Participants also discussed the opportunities and dangers facing tourism in the light of the current refugee influx to Europe.
Surprisingly, although Egypt was this year's Jubilee Culture Sponsor, the ITB organisers did not include it on the list of the top 50 countries to visit.
Stefan Brie, executive editor of a German news agency, said Egypt did not make a good showing at the fair. “When visitors don't come to you, you must go to them,” he said. Unfortunately, the Egyptian delegation had not learned this lesson and the Egyptian stand was “an island of emptiness in a hall crowded with people”.
“The Egyptians looked lazy, sitting behind their desks and exhibit tables,” Brie said. Egypt managed to reserve a place in the middle of the hall, unlike the Israelis who were stuck out in a corner. But Egypt did not capitalise on its position, and some of the Egyptian journalists with the Egyptian delegation spoke no foreign languages.
An employee of the German tourism sector said that there were clear shortcomings in the preparations made for the Egyptian tourism minister's meetings with airline representatives.
The minister's aides should have made prior arrangements to address the companies' demands, he said, since in the light of a decline in passenger numbers the companies have specific demands such as exemptions for takeoff and landing fees and subsidies based on the number of empty seats on planes.
But instead of talking to the person responsible, the minister was “playing catch up,” filling in missing information and data his assistants should have taken care of. This meant that he had been unable to conclude final deals at many of his meetings, the employee said.
In addition, demands from repeat tour organisers for PR campaigns to promote Egyptian destinations led to arguments, he said. This prompted the minister to hold meetings with GWT, the company responsible for promoting tourism to Egypt, to discuss what kind of marketing to undertake for Egypt. Zazou also met with representatives of TUI, the biggest German tour operator.
The film screened by then Tourism Minister Hisham Zazou at the fair also garnered negative reactions. Highlighting the difficult economic conditions facing workers who depend on tourism, like a carriage driver in Luxor who can't feed his children because of the paucity of tourists, the film made it seem as if “Egypt was begging,” the employee said.
Although company representatives said that the sharp decline in tourist numbers to Egypt is due to the current poor image of Egypt as a tourism destination, an agreement was reached under which TUI will operate one direct flight a week to Luxor from London starting on 1 November, despite the UK government's suspension of flights to Sharm El-Sheikh in Sinai.
Company representatives said promotional campaigns about Egypt must target markets like Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
Zazou also met with representatives of Phoenix Reisin, a company specialising in Nile and cultural tourism, to discuss plans for flights to Luxor next winter.
The tourism minister then met with the head of the Federation of German Airlines, Michael Angel, as well as representatives of the Air Berlin, Condor and SunExpress airlines. He affirmed the importance of coordination between the ministry and the airlines, explaining that steps had been taken to ensure airport security in Egypt.


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