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Minister of Tourism talks hopes, fears: Youm7 Exclusive
Abdel Nour: We are on our way to recovery and hope to double tourism by 2017
Published in Youm7 on 18 - 08 - 2011

Youm7 English Edition met one-on-one with Egyptian Minister of Tourism Munir Fakhry Abdel Nour on Tuesday, August 16. Minister Nour talked about Egypt's recovering tourism, plans for development and his fears of the implications on tourism if an Islamic regime comes to power in the wake of Egypt's January uprising. He also said tourism is where Egypt has the greatest competitive advantage.
Youm7: What is the situation with tourism in the country right now? Is it really as bad as people are saying it is?
It has been very, very bad, but there is no doubt that we are on our way to recovery. It has been bad in the sense that back in February the drop was the deepest ever in the history of Egyptian tourism, since we were down by 80% compared to the previous year during the same month. But this gap is shrinking month after month.
I expect - and I can give you figures - it is shrinking. In July we were down by about 20%.
I believe, I hope that if clam is restored to the Egyptian streets, if law and order prevails all over - and I think it will - we'll be back on track by October if not September.
Egyptian tourism has been prone to this kind of crisis since the 1980s. Those crises were the result of local events or regional or international events, but never have we seen an 80% drop. Going back to historical figures we have seen a drop of 40% or 50%, we have seen crises that took three to four months to recover, but we have never seen a crisis that took this long.
And it's very understandable, because we are living through a state of affairs. It's not an incident that happened in a specific time or specific date or specific place. It's a state of affairs that has lasted for 7 months now and it has been all over Egypt, literally all over Egypt, so we have to bear with it and face the facts.
Y7: How much does the tourism sector affect Egypt's GDP?
Tourism contributed close to 11.5 % of the Egyptian GDP in 2010. Total revenues from tourism last year amounted to 12.5 billion dollars. Up to today, the total loss of income in tourism revenues amounts to 3 billion dollars.
I expect, I'm overly optimistic maybe, but I expect that by the end of the year the total loss will remain the same. As I told you, I think we'll be back on track by September. I think we will have a good winter season, provided the street calms down.
In percentage terms, I'm unable to give you figures because I don't know what that GDP will be. Will the GDP increase, if so by how much? Will the GDP decrease, if so by how much? It's very questionable.
Y7: We've already seen an increase in tourism since the major drop after the revolution. Would you attribute that to the normal flow of things or is there something in particular that the ministry or the government has done to restore tourism?
You can't attribute this fact to one reason; it's a combination of reasons. The first reason is that I think Egypt is a great touristic country. What Egypt has to offer in terms of touristic services is literally unique and I don't think that international touristic markets can survive without Egypt.
Mind you, I'm saying this and we are still in the summer season, and this is more so in winter. We have to realize that Egypt is the closest warm country to Russia, Eastern Europe and even Western Europe and for them, for those people who live in the snow for almost 9 months of the year, they look for the sun, they look for the hot waters, they look for the beaches.
Not to mention the archeological depth that Egypt can offer. This is one point.
The second point is that we have to realize that there's a huge industry which is the industry of the charter flights. In summer obviously there are a lot of alternatives to the Egyptian destination. In winter I'm not so sure. In winter if we're talking this short flight, this 4-hour flight - and it's important to talk about the 4-hour flight when we're witnessing a huge increase in the prices of fuel - the only competition to Egypt, for this part of the world, would be the Canary Islands.
So Egypt in itself is a destination you can't disregard; this industry, the cultural industry, cannot disregard.
I think the sector, be it the ministry or the private sector, has made tremendous efforts to market Egypt. Everyone has made it his duty.
Unfortunately, hotels have reduced their prices to a point that really breaks my heart. I have warned them not to do so, but they did, because the competition is fierce.
The travel agents, most of them, have gone out, have advertised, have promoted, have done what they have to do.
The ministry, with its different arms, has made a tremendous effort. We are spending a lot of money promoting, we are promoting familiarization trips from all over the world, we are participating in fairs, we are subsidizing charter flights to some specific destinations, specific airports. We are doing everything that is in the book. If I tell you what we are doing… just to give you my schedule during September and October you'll realize how busy we are.
It's a race, and time is of the essence.
Y7: But if I'm a tourist coming to Egypt, my main priority is not advertising or the flyers I read about Egypt but the news I hear about Egypt. When I hear about clashes and shootings or attacks on police stations, that doesn't seem like a secure area where I would want to go. How do you intend to face this?
This is absolutely right, that's precisely why we are inviting people from around the world to tell them, Egypt is not only Tahrir square, to tell them that security is prevailing in Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada, Marsa Alam, Luxor, and Aswan, and this is where they are invited to come.
But, if you're raising this issue, let me tell you, being media people, that media is playing a very, very, very negative role. Instead of helping us, on the contrary they are trying to find problems everywhere. They are exaggerating in description. They have but one aim: to sell or to increase viewership.
Honestly, it's a very negative look. There is not a single positive thing to be said in any of the newspapers.
It's been the general trend in the Egyptian media - and international media for that matter - international media are free, but Egyptian media should feel some responsibility and some sort of responsibility vis-à-vis the national interest or the national well-being.
Y7: What kind of cooperation is there between the different ministries?
I'm in daily contact – 3 times, 4 times a day – with the Minister of Interior. There's a problem in Taba, there's a problem in Sharm el-Sheikh, there's a problem in Luxor. Cooperation with the Ministry of Interior is total. They react immediately; they take the necessary actions immediately. Honestly, they are extremely cooperative.
In addition to that we are creating events but also trying to diversify the touristic products and raise the level of touristic services.
Again, as an example, we are trying to relaunch the long Nile cruise, and hopefully that will take place by the beginning of November. It's a cruise between Aswan and Cairo, and vice versa, that is something that stopped back in the early 1990s as a result of security issues.
We are cooperating with the Ministry of Interior, and Ministry of Transportation, and Ministry of Irrigation, and hopefully we'll be able to relaunch that by November.
This is something that definitely will raise the interest of tour operators and definitely will attract tourists. It's a beautiful trip, the Nile is great and there are so many things to be seen along the way that have not been seen, which could not have been seen because they are too remote. I'm thinking of all the archaeological sites in Sohag, or in Minya. There are treasures in Minya.
This is just an example, but there are other things we are trying to do.
We are trying to promote ecological tourism, and I think this is a very important touristic product. When you look at statistics [it is] the fastest growing sector in tourism, and we have fantastic opportunities in Egypt. In the western desert there are some examples that really should be copied and duplicated.
But we need to promote this kind of tourism.
We need to promote the safari. We solved a lot of problems with regard to safaris. There were a lot of problems concerning the security, the relationships with the tour operators and the travel agencies and the Ministry of Interior and the army and so on, and most of those problems have been solved, and it's picking up.
It's an uphill struggle, but we're facing it with courage and optimism.
Y7: In terms of what you've just been talking about, diversifying and offering different options outside of the traditional - pyramids, temples, museums - what other opportunities are there? What else does Egypt offer that is unique to Egypt?
I think everything is unique to Egypt. I think the sites; the Egyptian beaches are unique to Egypt. I think the marina fauna and flora on the Red Sea is unique to Egypt. I think the Western Desert is unique to Egypt; St. Catherine is unique to Egypt. Egypt is unique. Literally. You will tell me all the countries are unique – that's not true. Not all the countries are unique. Egypt is, in itself, unique.
The geographical position of Egypt is unique. International tourism, the industry, cannot do without Egypt; it cannot, at least in this part of the world.
Y7: What are the different kinds of tourism we can promote?
Everything can be useful, but a sector that could become very important is health tourism. I think Egypt can become a center, a rehabilitation center, for the Arab world. Literally. I mean, instead of going to a spa in Germany or Switzerland, you can create spas, not for important surgical operations, but for rehabilitation, rest, rehab. It's closer. The weather is great.
There is a very important project that is being started in Marsa Alam in this respect. The group that is the major investor in Marsa Alem is in cooperation with Germany, building such a center, a rehab center. I think it will be a very, very successful project.
By the same token I have to speak about the “Green Sharm” project. Again, that will be financed by the German government to make of Sharm a green town. Totally ecological. We're starting, hopefully, with 40 hotels, to make them ecological.
I think, again, it is one kind of diversification of the touristic product.
In addition to diversification of the product, I think we have to diversify the market.
I won't say they [traditional markets] are close to saturation, because they'll never be saturated, but… you have new economic forces that are rising on the international market. India, China, Brazil – the greats of this world. And others, other newcomers, Vietnam, Argentina, et cetera. They have populations that are getting richer and richer and getting more curious to see the world. I think we have to market our products there.
But in addition to their economic conditions, they have the great advantage as far as we are concerned in that they have very large populations. If we get a minute percentage of this population to get interested in Egypt…
Y7: In the long-term, do you think there will be an impact on the tourism market from the revolution? If so, do you think that will be positive, or…
It depends on the outcome of the revolution.
Egypt is at a crossroads. The Egyptian population will have to choose between two projects to rebuild the country. The project that wants Egypt to be a modern, democratic, free, fair country. I think these are the four aims – democracy, modernization, free, fair and just. This is one project.
And there is another project that wants to have, to build an Islamic Republic with all of what that entails of potential contradiction – I'm saying potential. Potential contradiction with modernity, with democracy, with fairness. There is no doubt that the first model… has a more positive impact on tourism than the other.
Y7: Some people have said that should a more Islamic regime come to power in Egypt, that they would limit tourism, or that they would limit certain parts of tourism. Is this something that the ministry is worried about?
I'm personally worried about it, of course. I'm worried about it of course. I mean, if you review the discourse of the leaders of these movements, I think you cannot deny the fact that they have a lot of reservations about some kinds of tourism. Including beach tourism or ‘sun&fun' as it is called. Including, in fact, cultural tourism, and they have, some of them, have a very, very clear position vis-à-vis archeological, Pharaonic archaeological sites.
Y7: Going back to the sense of optimism that I can see…
I have to be optimistic. If I'm not optimistic I'll take my things and go back home!
Y7: If you can tell us more details about the plan for the ministry to revive the sector. If you have focused more on specific sectors within the tourism sector, like more cooperation with the infrastructure, institutions in Egypt, transportation ministry, all kind of ministries in this regard in this sector.
We have a sort of plan the medium term. In any case, in any event, nothing can be excluded [if there is] cooperation between the Ministry of Tourism and the private touristic sector… the cooperation of the ministry with most of the other ministries.
I think one of our main functions is to ensure the cooperation of ordinary citizens, transportation, education, civil aviation, really, just think about it – tourism is linked to 90% of the ministries. Unless everybody is on board and everybody is cooperating, tourism has a major… as a prime target will never cease. And this is why… I've asked the council of ministers to revive what has been commonly called the higher committee for tourism.
It is a committee that is presided over by the prime minister, with the membership of all the ministers: Minister of Culture, Minister of Archaeology, deputes…
We need to cooperate together and we need to realize that tourism can be the major source of income. I mean, this is, in my mind, the sector where Egypt has the biggest competitive advantage.
Based on this, our short-term plan is fairly simple: get out of the crisis. Get back on track. Do everything to get back on track, everything to have before the end of the year the at least equivalent revenues as the previous year. Which, by the way, was the peak in terms of revenues.
Y7: What were the percentages exactly?
It's not a question of percentage. I want to have in December 2011 the same number of tourists that visited Egypt in 2010 in December.
Y7: And how many were there?
Roughly 1.2 million.
This is the short-term target.
The long-term target, or the medium term targets, which is 5-year target, I think Egypt can and should double the number of tourists. In 2010 Egypt received 14.8 million tourists, with a revenue of 12.5 billion dollars. I think we need to do everything in order to receive, by 2017, 30 million tourists, generating a revenue of 25 billion dollars.
And we have constraints. We have at least two constraints: the preservation of the environment, and the conservation of our archaeological sites.
To do this, we need very, very accurate detailed planning of development. To be able to receive 30 million tourists, we need to have the airport capacity, the hotel capacity, the road and transportation capacity, to receive them and move them.
Preserve and conserve the environment and the archaeological sites, you need to plan individually each and every touristic spot. It cannot be done otherwise. I cannot put all the hotels in one spot and receive 30 million tourists in one spot. It has to be planned and planned very accurately. And if it is not, we would be facing the same problems we see today: fierce competition between hotel operators and between tour operators. The result is that they will reduce the prices of touristic services in Egypt and it will have a very negative impact.
So all this requires very thorough and detailed plan.
Y7: I have a question concerning something you mentioned earlier. You said that we need the tourists to understand that Egypt is not only Tahrir Square. While the whole world is interested in Tahrir Square and the revolutionary Egypt, how can we use that to promote for tourism?
No. Getting the attention of the world, capturing their imagination, earning or gaining their respect and maybe their admiration is one thing and attracting tourism for Egypt as a destination for tourists is something totally different.
Tourists are coming mainly to rest, to have peace and maybe see the pyramids. Tourists are not coming to make the revolution. The admiration, respect, etc are when he is sitting on his couch, looking at the television screen, and he would say, oh, they are very brave, those Egyptians. And we say thank you. He will not come to make the revolution, he will not come to clap and encourage. He will come to sit in the sun, enjoy, rest, etc. it is totally different.
Back in March, when we were at the ITB Berlin, we raised the Egyptian flag, we had films about the revolution, we were very very proud. We go carried away, and everybody just smiling, and saying bravo. We said come, and they said no. they will not come to look at fights and to get tear gas and so on. It's not something that will attract tourists.
Maybe one year down the road when the dust will settle, yes, we can talk about new Egypt, about a modern, democratic, free and fair country –hopefully- and yeah, this could be an attraction. But today?
I have a question about the budget for this year. Have you requested the budget to be increased?
Look. The tourism sector is a perfect example of public-private partnership, and we don't necessarily rely on the government budget. We do rely on the private sector participation for funding our promotional and advertising initiatives.
Y7: How much do you think the private sector could play a role?
It is already.
Additional reporting by Mervat Rashad.

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