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Is Egypt's vital Tourism Sector at Risk?
Thursday July 26, 2012
Could the recovery of Egypt’s vital tourism sector be in peril following election of its new president?
The Pyramids at Giza void of Tourists
The Pyramids at Giza void of Tourists - Phot by GlobalGirl
Negative and at times rather biased and scaremongering reports from the media with claims that new president Mohamed Mursi is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and is about to introduce halal tourism - the banning of alcohol and segregated beaches - are all helping to damage the already precarious recovery of the country’s fragile tourism industry. In my latest Letters from Luxor I attempt to update readers on the current state of the sector, which employs over four million people and is worth 20% of the economy.
I admit I was relieved when Mohamed Mursi was elected president in June, because having witnessed at first hand the revolution back in January 2011, and as I have been living in Luxor for the last seven months, I was just pleased to see after 18 turbulent months that the Egyptian people had finally been able to vote in their first and free democratic elections for 7,000 history. However, have they just replaced one military backed dictator Mubarak for one Islamist extremist in the shape of Mursi?
Not knowing much about Mursi before the elections, I of course googled him and was surprised that his educational background included obtaining a PHD in Engineering from the University of Southern California, and two of his five children, who were born in the US, are both American citizens. So even though he was the former chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, I hoped that having taken advantage of a western education he would not be planning a radical shake up to the tourism industry or a about to implement an Islamic state of Egypt and impose of sharia law.
Of course there has been the usual scaremongering in the Western press, notably the UK’s newspaper The Mail and the BBC, in painting a picture that things are heading down a slippery slope. That Mursi is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and he plans to impose halal or conservative tourism. Reading between the lines they imply it’s just a matter of time before the government bans the sale of alcohol, creates segregated beaches and forces women to wear the full face veil and burqa.
Living in Luxor I have spoken to a number of Egyptian‘s, especially those working or relying on the tourisms trade for business, they are all totally against such policies being introduced, and let’s just pray that they never are.
Not just because it will of course decimate an already troubled tourism industry, but because believe it or not the Egyptians also like to drink alcohol, and of course those in the tourism trade - which makes up to 20% of the economy - rely on it to attract visitors to their hotels and restaurants, and separate beaches for men and women would frankly be a disaster on a monumental scale for the red sea resorts of Sharm el Sheik and Hurghada.
Hani el-shaer, deputy chairman of Egypt’s Hotels Chambers, was quoted in Albawaba Business as saying he wants Mursi to be more specific and clear about his tourism plans and hopes his words so far have not just been lip service.
The tourism sector in Egypt employs four million people and as el-shaer states the vagueness of Mursi’s messages on tourism will only benefit competitors in the region such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. A 2011 Report of International Tourism organisation by UNWTO has already stated that Egypt has left the club of top 20 tourism countries, which it joined in 2010, falling from 18th to 26th place after attracting 14.4 million visitors.
However in Al Arabiya it was reported that Egypt’s tourism minister Muneer Fakhry Adbul Nour said he was very optimistic and expected an ‘unprecedented’ influx of visitors in the second half of 2012. He said he expected an increase in Spanish visitors who apparently prefer upper Egypt cities in the south such as Luxor and Aswan, as well as an influx of Japanese visitors as the direct Cairo-Tokyo flight has resumed service. He also pointed to an expected rise in charter flights with Russians, Polish, UK and German travellers to the red sea beach resorts.
As tourism accounts for such a large percentage of the labour trade in Egypt the worry is that the emergence of a politicised Islamist entity could led to ultra conservative traditions or ‘halal tourism’ being imposed that tourists would have to observe when visiting the country - a policy I suspect if implemented would help to cripple the tourism industry with one foul swoop.
Those in the tourism industry have their reservations and although Mursi says that tourism is one of his top priorities now in office, it is said that his approach is more towards cultural and safari tourism rather than beach tourism which actually makes up 80% of the country’s tourist trade….kill that and you kill the sector as a whole.
The tourism minister did admit that cultural tourism could increase due to the re-opening for the first time since 1997 of the long Nile cruise route from Cairo - Luxor - Aswan, however it is at his own peril that Mursi and his government try and put too many limits on tourists visiting Egypt. Tourism could be the biggest saviour of Egypt, unless the media and Mursi policies scare them off forever.
UNWTO secretary general Dr Taleb Rifai speaking at a conference in Bahrain recently said that tourism to Egypt is one of the leading foreign exchange earners and job creators in the country. He said there were signs of a recovery and that UNWTO offered its full support to the Egyptian tourism sector and will continue to work closely with relevant authorities towards it recovery. He said they will work together to encourage investment in all sectors, and restore the role of tourism for the benefit of the Egyptian economy and every citizen of Egypt.
Tabel Rifai admitted that Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen had suffered the most following the Arab Spring and holiday makers had opted for Turkey, Greece, UAE and Oman, In fact the Arab world lost 7.5 million visitors. He suggested that countries need to set up national strategies to promote tourism, of which a creative marketing plan needs to be at the heart of that I suggest. The message most people are getting from all sources of the media is on the whole negative. More good news please. There needs to be an urgent advertisement for a Director of Marketing and Communications, Egypt PLC ASAP or perhaps just employ the PR guru Max Clifford!
But perhaps I am being a bit harsh on Mr Mursi and his fellow members of the FJP. Only recently it was reported that they plan to bid to host the 2028 Olympics. Yes you heard me right, a country where 50% of the population, approximately 40 million people live on just $2 a day wants to host the greatest sporting tournament in the world.
Ambitious to say the least, but it would certainly attract more tourists. It was Ahmed Emam, head of the FJP Tourism Promotion Committee who made the claim. Egypt is home to 33% of the major monuments in the world he pointed out, and admitted cultural heritage had not been taken advantage of in recent times and but they have plans to attract 25 million visitors to Egypt each year. And although Egypt has fallen out of the top 20 to its current 38th place in the international tourism rankings, he already has his sights set on Spain which is in first place. But perhaps this isn’t such a delusional idea when you consider that Egypt has 7,000 years of history, it has beaches, the magical Nile river, coral reefs, deserts and arguably some of the greatest monuments in the world…..
It has been suggested by some in the media that Egypt should look at the Turkish model, an Islamic country where tourism attractions are promote all around the world through TV and movies. Turkey has the third highest tourism rate of any Islamic country receiving 30 million visitors last year.
According to Ali al-Afdal, speaking before the elections and at the time the temporary official spokesperson for Mursi, tourism would play a major role in Mursi’s program, and all actions taken in his first 100 days would benefit Egypt economy and tourism. He added tourism was one of Mursi’s major concerns and growth of the sector would not be achieved without stability and an atmosphere that encourages tourists to Egypt. So why not come out with his strategy now or whether or not he plans to ditch ‘beach tourism’?
The tourism trade was has been crippled post revolution, hotels remain half empty, cruise ships remain moored along the banks of the river Nile, and tour companies have closed as the negative media reports which continue to portray the misperception that the country is unsafe have led holiday markers to chose other destination.
However this actually means that now is a great time to visit Egypt, as there are bargain holiday deals to be had, and as the numbers of visitors has fallen so drastically you will have many of the amazing historical sites, temples, tombs and museums all to yourself, something unheard of a few years ago when numbers were at a high.
We can only hope that Mursi is true to his word and tourism remains a top priority, although worryingly one of the new president’s first pledges since taking up his post has been to gain the freedom of the notorious blind Egyptian militant Islamist sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who is currently imprisoned for life in the US, after masterminding the 1993 New York World Trade Centre attack and his followers once massacred 58 tourists in Luxor in 1997. There have also been claims by Iranian Fars News Agency, that Mursi wants to forger closer ties to Tehran to create strategic balance in the region, read into that what you will. Hardly the policies of a man committed to encouraging Western tourists to the country….All slightly worrying to say the least.
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"A Revolution is not a bed of roses." - Fidel Castro
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