Tourism on target
Amr El-Azaby, the new head of the Egyptian Tourist Authority, speaks with Rehab Saad
about the pitfalls, and the potential, of promoting Egypt
Egypt's tourism industry expanded steadily in 2006, generating revenues of $7.6 billion from the just under 10 million tourists who spent 89.3 million nights in Egypt. China and Russia emerged as growing and potentially lucrative markets. New hotels were built and more destinations created along Egypt's north western coast. It is against this background that Amr El-Ezaby took over as the new head of the Egyptian Tourist Authority (ETA).
"I was appointed to the post to execute the development strategy devised by the Ministry of Tourism," El-Ezaby told Al-Ahram Weekly, "particularly the international marketing component."
The ultimate aim, he says, is to attract 25 million tourists by 2020, which will require the provision of 130,000 new hotel rooms and a significant diversification in products offered, as well as consolidating the Egyptian brand internationally.
"We are focussing on markets where we are already well-represented as well as intensifying our efforts in relatively new ones," El-Ezaby said.
The ETA, he explains, is committed to attracting growing numbers of tourists from existing markets and reducing the seasonal nature of tourism to Egypt, to which end it is heavily promoting new, integrated resorts on the Red Sea and Mediterranean coasts.
"We already maintain a close relationship with domestic and international players in the industry, including hotels, tour operators and travel agencies. We have offices in all our major markets and run advertising campaigns abroad as well as organising trips for travel writers from overseas."
Despite such efforts Egypt ranked a disappointing 58th out of 124 countries surveyed in the first ever travel and tourism competitiveness report compiled by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and released in March, lagging behind regional competitors the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Tunisia, Jordan and Morocco.
The WEF describes its study as a "cross-country analysis of the drivers of competitiveness in travel and tourism that provides useful comparative information for making business decisions and additional value to governments wishing to improve their travel and tourism environments".
"You have to look at what criteria they actually used," El-Azaby says, defending Egypt's poor ranking. "The report is comprehensive in that it deals with the tourist industry as part of the entire economy but out of the 13 indices used 10 are not directly related to the tourism sector."
Hygiene and medical services, not only those offered to tourists but medical services in general, education, human resources, the ratio of airports to total population, the ratio of ATM machines, all featured in the evaluation.
"It was not," argues El-Azaby, "an assessment of the tourist sector but of the entire economy, and that is beyond the remit of the ETA."
"We have good resorts, we have excellent cultural resources and through our marketing strategy we try to emphasis our assets. I believe this is working. The flow of tourism is satisfactory, we received nine million tourists last year, up five per cent on the previous year which is a percentage point higher than the average international increase. We are continuing to work towards a 10 per cent increase by the end of this year."
"We are no longer in the crisis mode," he adds, noting that even markets that had been slipping, such as France's and Italy's, are now relatively buoyant.
"What is true," concedes El-Ezaby, "is that our main focus is on leisure tourism at the expense of other trends such as cultural tourism. We are not losing ground in cultural tourism but we are not increasing proportionally. We also need to promote ourselves in new markets such as the weekend travellers, and up Egypt's profile in the areas of heritage and socio-ethnic/rural tourism. Success in these areas, though, will depend on working with authorities other than those focussed exclusively on the tourist trade."
"Our current focus on the Red Sea and Sinai is largely a result of the fact that these areas currently account for 110,000 of Egypt's 180,000 hotel rooms. As a consequence they receive the largest share of our promotional budget."
Alexandria, Aswan, Luxor, and Nile cruises, are accorded a much lower profile, he says, because they do not yet have sufficient accommodation capacity to justify a blanket promotional campaign.
Despite the Arab market being the Egyptian tourist industry's second largest after the European, the ETA maintains no regional offices and depends instead on annual road shows and one-off promotions. It is a policy that has attracted criticism, with many arguing a more concerted campaign in Arab countries is needed.
"In an ideal world we would open offices in all our markets but we have to work within our budgetary constraints. Yes, Arab countries are the second largest source of tourist coming to Egypt but they account for only 20 per cent of the total, whereas Europe furnishes 70 per of all tourists to Egypt. We get 400,000 tourists from Libya, 380,000 from Saudi Arabia, 140,000 from Jordan and 100,000 from Syria. Compare that with the one million arriving from the UK, one million from Germany, and more than one million from Russia. We need greater presence in European markets than in Arab ones. Arab countries are of course important to us but I do not honestly see us opening offices in the foreseeable future. Where there is room for improvement, though, is in the road show formula, which could benefit from a greater focus on individual products and destinations -- the Red Sea, Nile cruises and so forth."