Tourism is one of the mainstays of the stability and economic improvement of Egypt. Before the 25 January 2011 Arab Spring Revolution, revenue from tourism stood at about USD14 billion
. It provided four million job opportunities, and 225,000 hotel rooms were available. Watani spoke to Hossam Hazaa, a member of the Foreign Tourism Committee at the Tourism Companies’ Chamber and a former member of Tour Guides Syndicate, who has his own view about how to overcome the economic crises of a country that has seen two revolutions in less than three years.
What did tourism stand before the Arab Spring Revolution of January 2011 in Egypt?
Tourism was a main source of national income. About four million people benefited directly or indirectly from it, from people in the furniture industry to hotel staff, factories and suppliers, and even farmers and taxi drivers. Under normal conditions, meaning had there been no political turmoil during the last three years, the tourist industry could have been expected to double in value to USD28 billion.
What would this mean?
Doubling the number of tourists would have led to double the number of direct and indirect job opportunities. The plan was to increase the number of rooms to 500,000, and thus increase revenue to USD28 billion. What people don’t know, though, is that we were never satisfied with those figures.
This was because of problems in many of the sectors related to tourism, such as EgyptAir which monopolises internal flights and sells fares at high prices compared with the fares of an international company like Lufthansa.
Also the tourist offices worldwide of the Tourism Promotion Authority don’t perform their role effectively. They are supposed to market Egypt by making use of our marvelous tourist destinations. The same applies to the private sector, which is also poor at marketing and public relations. I think we should outsource the marketing of tourism in Egypt to a specialised international company that would market Egypt in a way different than the way it has traditionally been marketed.
Regardless of the current circumstances, we could market Egypt as a place suitable for conferences without focusing on Cairo alone; Upper Egypt and South Sinai, as well as the Egyptian Mediterranean coast in the North, are perfect locations for conference tourism.
What you say was perfectly valid before the January 2011 Revolution, but how can the current crisis be overcome today so that tourism can achieve what is expected of it?
We have to start in the right manner so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past. First, we should reactivate the role of Tourism Promotion Authority offices around the world. Second, we should start increasing the number of rooms now, because building costs are lower than they will be in years to come. Third, education is a main factor in the equation; tourism curricula should be developed to include marketing, promotion, public relations, human resources, and crisis management.
A large responsibility falls on the private sector. Businessmen can take out full-page advertisements for Egypt in international newspapers, and some time on Euro News and Fox News to clarify the truth about Egypt and what is going on here. They should math up to the Muslim Brothers’ (MB) success in invading the international media.
Do you have any plans for a more vibrant tourist season?
Since we can’t isolate tourism from the current political situation, we will have to start by stopping the MB’s destructive protests; improving the role of security; locking up terrorists since such a move sends out a clear message of stability and security, and confirms that Egypt is serious about maintaining them. Not only that, but we must take advantage of the decision by some countries to lift travel warnings to Egypt. This can help us market our tourist destinations. We could also open new markets in South America, Southeast Asia and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Is there place for any new ideas?
Definitely there is. We have to plan and arrange for international events similar to Formula One and bicycle racing to attract more audience and media. We can also arrange international music festivals and artistic events.
Those working in the tourist industry in Egypt are suffering badly. There are many experienced, skilled and competent people in tourism. If these people shift their career, we will face a big problem drawing them back, especially because of the current impression that working in tourism is not a stable or profitable job anymore. Even students are no longer interested in tourism or history courses.
4 May 2014
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