Although tourist flows to Egypt have improved, more needs to be done to get the most out of the industry, reports Ahmed Kotb
Training, an open skies policy and targeting new markets are some of the suggestions offered by tourism experts to help increase the flow of tourists to Egypt. That flow had been drastically affected by political instability following the 25 January Revolution. Tourism dropped by around 30 per cent in 2011.
Although the tourism sector, which is a main source of foreign currency and one of the pillars of Egypt's economy by contributing 11.5 per cent to the national income, has been doing well lately considering the rising number of tourists, experts agreed during a seminar at the Euromoney Egypt conference, held in Cairo recently, that the industry still has much to do.
Adla Ragab, economic advisor to the minister of tourism, stated that the number of tourists who visited Egypt from the beginning of this year to August reached 7.5 million, spending 83 million nights and yielding more than $6 billion in revenues. "It is a good start to end this year with a targeted number of tourists of 11.5 million," she said.
Some 10.5 million tourists visited Egypt in 2011, compared to 14.5 million in 2010 which was the best year for the industry in terms of the number of tourists and revenues that amounted to $12.5 billion. Revenues in 2011 were estimated at $9.5 billion.
But not everyone believes that the number of tourists is an indication of a successful industry. Anton Good, president of Swiss Inn Hotels and Resorts, told the audience at the Euromoney seminar that tour operators think of volume only. "Occupancy rates are almost back to normal in many hotels and resorts, especially in the Red Sea, but the problem lies in low rates affecting the profitability of hotels," he pointed out, adding that hotel rooms that used to cost $60 10 years ago are now sold at $30.
Ragab agrees that there is a problem with the expenditure of tourists. "The average expenditure is currently as low as $74 per night. We are targeting $125," she said.
To encourage more tourists to come, and more importantly spend more money, people in various countries need to have a clear picture of Egypt, says Ahmed Al-Emam, spokesman of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) for tourism and aviation. He added that better advertising and promotion are needed.
Likewise, Ashraf Ibrahim, head of the travel and tourism sub-council at the Egyptian National Competitiveness Council, believes that each destination in Egypt needs to be promoted individually because each has distinguished features that would appeal to a certain group of tourists. Similarly, Good said that existing tourist destinations should be improved and new destinations have to be created in order to attract tourists who pay more.
In that regard, Ragab mentioned that two mega projects in Marsa Alam are underway, and there is a plan for establishing an airport in Ras Sedr in the South Sinai governorate. Additionally, she said long cruise tourism, from Cairo to Aswan, has been resumed after having stopped for 17 years, and will help boost cultural tourism.
Experts agreed that levels of hospitality need to improve. "Hospitality is the keyword to improve tourist flows," said Al-Emam, adding that the FJP is working on finding ways to improve hospitality.
"Besides security and political stability, we are in dire need of training," said Executive Chairman of Aero Services Egypt Group Mohamed Hanno.
Hanno stated that travel agencies, hotels and aviation companies in Egypt are spending very little money on training, in spite of its great benefits. "Most of the problems that the tourism industry is suffering are due to lack of training," he declared. He also said that the government started a training plan for the industry but "most of the entities were not cooperative."
"The institution itself should be responsible for training, which will eventually be for its benefit," Hanno stressed.
"Attracting tourists who pay more should be a priority," said Al-Emam, adding that there are efforts underway in this direction, like opening additional routes with Turkey, Japan and China. "Tourist delegations from these countries will help the industry restore normal rates," he said.
Another suggestion made by Good is to adopt an "open sky" policy for the aviation industry, in order to bring flight prices down and help increase the number of flights and, accordingly, tourists.
In order to help the tourism industry and address any challenges it faces, Ragab stated that the Cabinet has agreed to form the High Committee for Tourism, with the membership of the ministers of tourism, culture, civil aviation and interior. "The committee holds a monthly meeting to discuss the problems of the industry and try to solve them in the fastest ways possible," she said.