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Egypt sending out message of peace
May 2013 1646
In the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, Egypt is pulling out all the stops to spread spread the word that the country is once again a safe and attractive destination and that the visitors are coming back. KAREN OSMAN reports

Before the Arab Spring swept across Egypt, the country enjoyed a vibrant tourism industry, attracting as many as 14 million tourists in 2010.

However in the aftermath of the violence and rioting that accompanied the 2011 revolution – which lead to the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak and the formation of a democratic government – tourism was badly affected and hotel occupancy levels plummeted along with number of tourists visiting Egypt.

The year 2012 saw occupancy rates in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan drop to 32, 17 and 16 per cent respectively.  

But with peace and stability now coming back to the country, Egypt is embarking on a charm offensive to tell the world that it is once again a safe and peaceful destination, and that international travellers are flocking back.

Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of last month’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai, UAE, Egypt’s Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou said that the current unrest was limited to certain troubled areas but most other destinations in the country including its famed beach resorts were not affected and averaging occupancy rates of 75 per cent.

Zaazou emphasised that Egypt’s tourism industry was built on solid foundations and was able to remain strong despite challenges.

He pointed out that the number of inbound tourists rose by 15 per cent to 2.8 million in the first quarter of 2013 over the same period last year, and added that Egypt’s presence at the ATM affirmed the strong relationship the country had with the Gulf states in general and the UAE in particular.

He also said that Egypt is now hoping for 20 per cent growth in tourist arrivals this year as part of a target of 20 million tourists by 2020.

In addition to the positive numbers, Zaazou outlined a number of key initiatives in place to further reassure visitors and stimulate the tourism industry which currently accounts for 11.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), directly and indirectly. “We are practical and realise the challenges we are facing, and we are thinking out of the box,” Zaazou said.

This out-of-the-box thinking included a public relations initiative involving cameras in popular tourism hot-spots providing live feeds to show that they were safe and calm. As the cameras rolled live during the ATM press conference, Zaazou also said that privacy was being respected with “no close-ups allowed” without prior permission of guests caught on camera.

There were also plans to get video testimonials from guests, to counter the international media’s focus on troubled areas, Zaazou said.

“We are returning to the high tourism levels we witnessed in 2010, and we will concentrate on global markets and the Arab region in particular as the number of Arab tourists amounted to 520,000 this year which reflects an increase of 7.5 per cent compared to the first quarter of 2012,” Zaazou pointed out.

In addition to strategic media campaigns, Egypt plans to work closely with international airlines as approximately 85 per cent of visitors to Egypt arrive by air, he said.

Egypt also plans to target new markets in South America (Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico) and Asia (Malaysia, China, India, Korea and Vietnam), Zaazou said.

“We should invite all nations to Egypt. This is my role, as the tourism minister, to invite all nationalities,” he said.

Egypt’s tourism industry provides 15.2 per cent of its foreign exchange earnings, 45.1 per cent of exports services and 9.2 per cent of the volume of investments in the services sector. In addition, it provides job opportunities for 12.6 per cent of the total workforce in Egypt (1.8 million direct and 1.2 million indirect ones). Egypt is also ranked as the 18th topmost tourism destination in the world.

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