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Challenges to Egypt's tourism
Published in The Egyptian Gazette on 05 - 01 - 2012

CAIRO- Egypt's tourism underwent its worst crisis in 2011. Although there is much doubt about its recovery from this year-long problem, the tourist sector at home refused to relinquish hope that the year 2012 will witness a strong bounce back.
The Minister of Tourism Mounir Fakhri Abdel Nour has said that Egypt's tourism sector underwent unprecedented circumstances and experienced a huge crisis, which resulted from regional and global developments.
Abdel Nour said that the tragic aftermath of the January 25 revolution in 2011 constituted the biggest challenge, which faced Egypt's tourism.
He complained that local and foreign mass media contributed outrageously to problems overwhelming Egypt's tourism by exaggerating the domestic situation, mass demonstrations and acts of violence and attacks on public and private properties.
He further protested that the mass media were interested in covering mutilated bodies dumped in the street or in the morgue. "As a result, the number of tourists preparing to visit Egypt declined sharply and tourist revenues were reduced alarmingly," the Minister said.
Tourism income
However, lauding traits and the potential of Egypt's tourism, Abdel Nour said that the industry has managed to reduce its losses.According to the Minister, 14.9 million tourists visited Egypt in 2010 and bought 150 million nights.
The Minister estimated tourist income in 2010 at $12.5 billion, representing a 32 per cent decline over 2009.
He said: "About 10.2 million tourists visited our country in 2011, constituting a decline of 32 per cent from the previous year's. Tourist nights declined by 22 per cent. He estimated 2011's tourist revenues at $9 billion, a decline of 18 per cent over 2010.
Tourist losses and gains
He also regretted the tragic circumstances after the revolution had killed off hopes embraced by Egypt's tourism industry in 2010 that it would receive a larger number of tourists in 2011 estimated at an additional three million.
However, the Minister said that regardless of the decline in different markets, Libyan tourists in Egypt had increased by 37 per cent, Palestinians by 35 per cent, Iraqi visitors by 33 per cent, Jordanians by 27 per cent, Syrians by 10 per cent and Sudanese visitors by eight per cent.
Strategies for survival
Refusing to give in to the appalling challenges, the Ministry of Tourism has decided to intensify its efforts to help the nation's chief industry to survive.
According to strategies drawn up by the Minister of Tourism, in collaboration with tourist advisers and strategists, regulations governing tourist activities and responsibilities at home have been thoroughly reviewed to end the grievances of different travel agencies in connection with the pilgrimage travel to Saudi Arabia.
The boards of the Travel Agents Association, the Egyptian Hotel Association and the Egyptian Tourism Federations were reshuffled by fair and transparent elections.
A new spirit of co-operation, the Minister added, was maintained between the Ministry of Tourism and different ministries, including the Ministries of the Interior, Transport, Irrigation and Water Resources and Finance.
Abdel Nour further said: "In the meantime, the Central Bank of Egypt and different state-owned banks approved a plan to help overcome the crisis.
Also we managed to persuade several charter flight operators and low-cost airways to co-operate with Egyptian airports." The Ministry of Tourism has also given top priority to training to prepare a new qualified generation of staff and employees in the tourist sector.
GPS in tour buses
In his interview, Abdel Nour disclosed that tour buses have been supplied with Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to reduce road accidents. He added: “bus drivers employed by travel agencies are undergoing high-level and regular driving test and training." The Minister promised that the Bus Drivers Training Centre, which will be open within weeks, will be the biggest qualified training centre in the Middle East.

ITB Berlin partnership
Abdel Nour declared that the greatest challenges, which faced Egypt's tourism in 2011, had motivated the Egyptian Tourist Authority to exert more efforts overseas to surmount the difficulties.
According to the Minister, the Egyptian Tourist Authority has intensified image rebuilding and advertising efforts in foreign markets, which Abdel Nour emphasised, would bear fruit very soon in 2012.
"Within this context, we signed an agreement with ITB Berlin's organisers to be the event's partner and Guest of Honour in its session in March this year.”

Egypt's overseas tourism offices
The Minister denied reports that he was preparing to make a substantial reshuffle in the chairpersons and staff of Egypt's tourist offices in foreign markets.
Although he admitted that he was looking for highly qualified staff, who could act as ambassadors, he had shelved plans to replace the chiefs and senior assistants in the Egyptian tourist officers in foreign capitals.
"The reasons is that many of these people became experienced in these foreign markets and they should have their opportunity to resume their co-operation because Egypt is undergoing a very critical stage in its history.”

Incentives for Arab tourists
The Minister of Culture has emphasised that his ministry is doing its best to eliminate the obstacles hindering the flow of a larger number of Arab tourists into Egypt.
Nonetheless, he disclosed that, regardless of the upsetting circumstances in 2011, the number of Arab visitors in Egypt was higher by 21 per cent than in 2010.
He said that he would soon announce a package of incentives for Arab tourists, who prefer to visit Egypt while driving their cars.

Long-distance Nile voyages
In his interview, Abdel Nour said that the long-distance Nile voyages from Cairo to Aswan, which were suspended in 1994, would resume in March this year.
The minister seized the opportunity to stress that his ministry had paid special attention to tourist activities in the two Upper Egyptian towns of Aswan and Luxor.
"For example, we organised two important events in Aswan in 2010, the first of which was World Tourism Day, which was attended by a large number of ministers of tourism from different countries of the world, international tour operators and tourism experts.
“The [second was the] official opening of the historic building of the Sofitel Cataract Legend Hotel, which was celebrated in November 2011 after the hotel underwent thorough restoration and upgrading."
The hotel's former guests notably have included monarchs and other members of royal families, heads of state, politicians and internationally famed literati and writers.
Concerning his ministry's interest in tourist activities in Luxor, Abdel Nour explained that a variety of folk, artistic and cultural activities were organised in this Upper Egyptian town, including a festival of traditional stick dancing and the internationally renowned sculpture symposium.
The minister revealed that on March 1 this year, grand festivities would be held to mark the reopening of the Avenue of Rams (between Luxor and Karnak Temples), and the opening of a newly excavated ancient tomb and temple on Luxor's west bank.

Higher Council of Tourism
Abdel Nour paid tribute to the ruling military council's support for the tourism industry in Egypt by disclosing that the council had decided to revive the Higher Council of Tourism (HCT).
"The HCT board members will convene in March this year and the meeting will be chaired by the Prime Minister in his capacity as the HCT chairman."
Awareness-raising campaign
The minister confirmed that he was keen to launch a national campaign to raise awareness so as to draw the nation's attention to the key importance of tourism in boosting the economy, investment opportunities and job-creating projects.
Investors' social responsibility
Abdel Nour appealed to investors in different areas to assume their social responsibilities towards local communities. He reminded investors that their social contribution in this regard would help them overcome any problems they were facing.
"Contributing to society will help the locals to overcome suspicions they may hold that they are not partners in tourist development projects in their communities," the minister advised.
He explained that such misunderstandings over tourist development projects were behind the support given by local voters to candidates belonging to religious groups, which were not interested in the tourism industry by any means.
"The locals in tourist destinations sought by means of their votes to hit back at the owners of tourist companies, hotels and restaurants in their communities," he asserted.
Abdel Nour also referred to owners of tourist projects flagrantly seeking to overcome their crises by reducing employees' wages, incentives and allowances.
Overcrowded market
The minister noted that the number of travel agencies was growing so rapidly that this could result in adversely affecting activities in the local market. He mentioned that he had advised the Chamber of Travel Agencies to stop issuing licenses in this field in order to balance supply and demand.
Pilgrimage season
Referring to the expensive Hajj (pilgrimage) journeys to Saudi Arabia for Egyptians pilgrims, Abdel Nour said that he sympathised with the Egyptian pilgrims and he would discuss new travel arrangements with the travel agencies, which would be alone authorised to organise the holy journey to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Recognition of top hotels,
tour companies
The minister confirmed that his ministry would resume the long-standing tradition in which top hotels, tour companies and travel agencies, and pioneering tourist investors would be recognised and honoured during the annual festivities of the World Tourism Day.
He stated that these festivities under the name of “Day of Gratitude" would be organised in late January this year.
Investors' confidence restored
The Minister of Tourism declared that, regardless of the tragic circumstances in Egypt last year, his ministry, in collaboration with the Government, had managed to restore the confidence of Arab and other foreign investors in the investment environment in Egypt.
He also remarked that new plots of land allocated for tourist projects would soon be distributed to investors.
Miscalculated statements
Although Abdel Nour admitted that miscalculated statements by religious people had stirred up anxieties in the tourist sector, he denied that any political system in Egypt would ignore the strategic economic importance played by the tourism industry in society.
"These statements confused tour operators overseas and at home, especially after the rise of Islamists and Muslim fundamentalists to power in the [incoming] parliament," the minister said.
"Nonetheless, any political leadership in Egypt cannot, by any means, ignore the fact that tourism industry contributes by 11.5 per cent to the gross national product, and is the greatest spinner of hard currency, as well as a huge job-creating industry."

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