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The pope's message on Egypt
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 27 - 04 - 2017

Roman Catholic Pope Francis' visit to Egypt this week will help boost religious tourism to Egypt and put the country on the map worldwide since the Roman Catholic Church has some 1.13 billion followers around the world who will follow the visit closely, said Dina Tadros, a former adviser to the Ministry of Tourism for Coptic heritage and a member of the committee for reviving the journey of the Holy Family in Egypt.
The pope's visit will encourage people to want to see Egypt, Tadros said. Historically, Jesus and most of the prophets came to Egypt for refuge and viewed it as a land of peace. The pope's visit to Egypt carries a similar message of peace and will reassure other potential visitors to the country that Egypt is safe and welcoming.
Pope Francis' visit will take place on schedule, confirming the message of peace that should be reflected in enhanced religious and cultural tourism.
The number of tourists from Italy visiting Egypt, where the Vatican City is located, has dropped over the past two years since the murder of Italian student Giulio Regini in Cairo in 2016. It is too early to tell whether this situation will change after the pope's visit.
“I cannot make any predictions,” Tadros said. “Some 11 to 12 million Italians travel overseas every year, but this figure is dwarfed by the 1.13 billion Roman Catholics around the world. Nonetheless, Italian tourists were among the top four nationalities visiting Egypt for beach tourism until comparatively recently.”
There are various factors that could lead to increases in Italian tourism to Egypt, including illegal immigration to Italy from Libya, Egypt's neighbour, Italian investment in tourism compounds in South Sinai, and losses for Italian tour operators sending tourists to Egypt because of fewer charter flights to Sharm El-Sheikh.
Atef Abdel-Latif, a tourism expert and president of the South Sinai and Red Sea Investors Association, an industry group, said the pope's visit was certain to have an impact on tourism figures.
“I expect tourism from Italy will increase due to the pope's visit and will lead to more charter flights,” Abdel-Latif said. “I hope the visit boosts tourism to 30 to 40 per cent more in June and August than last year, these months being the Italian holiday season.”
Abdel-Latif said Egypt should take advantage of the pope's visit to attract tourists from around the world, especially since his visits are broadcast to India, China and Latin America, with Brazil being one of the largest exporters of religious tourism worldwide.
Since there are currently no direct flights between Egypt and some countries in Latin America, Tadros believes this should be addressed with the national carrier EgyptAir. “We are also looking into charter flights to bring tourists from Brazil, similar to the deal with China using charter airlines that boosted Chinese tourism to Egypt,” she said.
It is also important to plan appropriate tours for Brazilian visitors who may be interested in religious, cultural and Nile tourism rather than beach tourism. Few tourists are likely to take a 14-hour flight from Brazil to Egypt in order to spend a week at the beach, when the Latin American countries already often have excellent beaches of their own.
The situation is different for European tourists who are only three to five hours from Egypt by charter flight.
“Pope Francis has decided to visit Egypt at this time and meet with Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb, launching an inter-faith dialogue founded on love, brotherhood and peace,” Tadros said.
“This sends out messages of reassurance, and we should capitalise on these in order to promote tourism to Egypt, including tourism focusing on the journey of the Holy Family. Of course, it is already enough that the pope mentions Egypt as a holy land written about in scripture. But such statements should also be highlighted in publicity campaigns to promote tourism to the country,” she said.
Father Rafik Greish, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in Egypt, said the Vatican's minister of tourism had visited Egypt at the invitation of former tourism minister Hisham Zazou and had partially followed the route taken by the Holy Family.
“This is evidence that the Vatican approves this route,” he said.
Abdel-Latif said that Pope Francis confirming his visit despite the recent terrorist attacks on churches in Alexandria and Tanta had been important. His words and his decision had had a positive impact worldwide, Abdel-Latif said.
“The pope has confirmed his visit as scheduled, and he will meet with state, Al-Azhar and Church officials while he is in Egypt, as well as various public figures. This will give tourism a tremendous boost, especially since the terrorist attacks could have derailed the pope's visit and led to losses for tourism,” he said.
The joint statement by Al-Azhar, Pope Francis and the Coptic Orthodox Church before the visit will also be a strong message to the world and have a positive impact on tourism and the economy as a whole.
“I hope a meeting between the pope and Egypt's ministers of tourism and culture can be arranged in order to promote visits to the country,” Abdel-Latif said. “It would be a symbol of Egypt's diversity, welcoming of others and acceptance of various religions and sects.”

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