Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 December 2010
Issue No. 1026
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A global carnival

Amira El-Naqeeb samples some wonders from around the world

Click to view caption
From top: "Bala" or hello from Fiji; an overview of the WTM; the Egyptian booth.

The World Travel Market (WTM) 2010, which took place in ExCel, London, on 8-11 November, was attended by some 46,000 travel professionals from all five continents. They came from 187 countries to compete for tourist markets around the globe, and the Egypt booth poised itself for the lion's share. The booth brandished a Nile cruising logo and brand slogan "Egypt, where it all begins", as part of a new campaign by the Egyptian Tourist Authority.

The booth was located in the Africa wing, covering 622.5 square metres and housed a display of 70 companies including tour operators, five-star hotels and airlines. Visitors were given brochures about landmark attractions, but you didn't have to come to the four-day event to be swayed to visit Egypt. Several of London's famous double decker buses were plastered with the brand slogan for everyone to see.

On the first day of WTM 2010, Minister of Tourism Zoheir Garana addressed a seminar titled "Multi-aspect Egypt" to discuss some facts and figures about tourism in Egypt between January and September 2010. Garana noted that the largest volume of tourists to Egypt came from Russia, the UK, Germany, Italy and France, respectively. More than one million visitors flocked from the UK in the first nine months of this year, a 9.4 per cent increase from the same period last year.

As the title of the seminar implied, visitors can experience multiple vacations in one when they visit Egypt, considering that a 60-minute domestic flight within Egypt can take travellers from visiting the Pyramids and Sphinx in Cairo, to enjoying the unique coral reef of the Red Sea Riviera. Or they can hop on a plane between the white sandy beaches along the Mediterranean, to get lost in the realm of history by visiting the rich heritage in Luxor or indulge in a Nile cruise in Aswan. Garana also highlighted new products on the Egyptian market, such as eco- tourism and spa and wellness.

He also announced the launch of Easy Jet flights between London Gatwick Airport and Luxor on 3 November, which is welcome news for shoestring and budget travellers who also wish to stay for short visits. He also announced the reopening of the Museum of Islamic Art in the summer of 2011, and that the excavation of the Avenue of Sphinxes should be completed by next year. The sphinxes connect the temples of Karnak and Luxor, and are slotted as Egypt's most important find since the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1922.

Despite all the good news, increases in the Air Passenger Duty (APD) is holding back more tourism between the UK and Egypt. During meetings with various tour operators and during the UNWTO, Garana emphasised that it is imperative to make a collaborative effort to limit the negative impact of the new APD on the tourism economy. "I don't object to the duty," he explained to Egyptian reporters, "but I'm pointing out the importance of unifying its value to all destinations, rather than varying it from one location to another."

"In order to address all the challenges facing tourism in Egypt objectively, tourism must be adopted as a national project," Garana asserted, adding that the sector is closely intertwined with many other industries. "In order to have good tourism, we need good infrastructure; and more importantly, high calibre workers in the sector." The minister personally believes that "the future plan is to invest in people". Egypt recently approved plans to create a national training centre, in collaboration with the private sector and the different tourism chambers for industry workers.

At the WTM event, exhibitors used many novel ideas to lure visitors, offering national food, drinks, refreshments, delicacies, or just outstanding booth designs. Fiji had a small booth but a big impact, using the slogan "Discover me, Fiji me" and two handsome men dressed in islander South Pacific costumes roaming the ground, greeting everyone with a native Bula, or Hello.

The Kazakhstan booth had beautifully crafted and designed brochures, while local women demonstrated local handicrafts to introduce visitors to the culture. India promoted itself from a giant booth showcasing numerous destinations and endless products back home, ranging from safari, spiritual, spa and wellness trips, to trekking and mountain tourism.

An outstanding colourful booth that attracted many visitors displayed the attractions of the Spanish island of Menorca in the Mediterranean Sea. The booth was designed to look like a contemporary hip lounge, offering drinks and delicacies to the visitors. Abu Dhabi also had a unique booth which welcomed visitors into partitioned comfortable lounges with Arabic designs and offering Arabic coffee. Kenya had a dominating presence in the Africa wing as it promoted eco-tourism, while South Africa and Tanzania were also well represented.

South Korea's booth declared Seoul as the destination of 2011, and offered samples of local food to visitors who stood in line to sample the spicy appetiser. Meanwhile, the aroma of organic coffee at Mexico's exhibit calmed the nerves and soul.

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