Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Tourism in jeopardy

Ahmed Kotb talks to Ashraf Ibrahim, head of the Egyptian National Competitiveness Council’s Travel and Tourism Sub-Council, about where tourism stands in the midst of the current unrest

Ashraf Ibrahim
Ashraf Ibrahim
Al-Ahram Weekly

The tourism industry, one of the main pillars of Egypt’s economy, is continuing to suffer amid the political instability and security concerns in some areas of the country, with hotel occupancy rates at their lowest during the winter season, usually the high season for Egypt’s tourism.
The number of tourists visiting Egypt has dwindled due to the unrest. Several countries have issued travel warnings to citizens planning a visit to Egypt, and many tour operators have removed the land of the pharaohs from their favourite destinations. As a result, Egypt’s has seen its competitiveness as one of the world’s top tourist destinations seriously affected.  
In order to understand the current state of the tourism sector, as well as the efforts being made to get one of Egypt’s biggest hard-currency earners back on track, Al-Ahram Weekly spoke to Ashraf Ibrahim, head of the Egyptian National Competitiveness Council’s Travel and Tourism Sub-Council, which is responsible for increasing the competitiveness of the Egyptian tourism sector and improving its global position.

How has the violence that has erupted since the second anniversary of the 25 January Revolution in Egypt affected the tourism industry?  
Tourism is a very sensitive industry, and every violent clash on the streets amid mass protests immediately affects the flow of tourists. The current unrest, which started two months ago, has led to several violent clashes and protests that have left the sector in a very poor state today, and it might take a long time before it can fully recover.
The winter season, which we had high hopes would recover when things were improved and stability restored, has performed poorly, with low occupancy rates and a meagre flow of tourists after the cancellation of many reservations due to the current unrest. The situation is worse in Cairo, the centre of cultural tourism, because the city is at the heart of the events. Many tour operators have already excluded Egypt from their agendas, and if the unrest goes on it will be hard to win back markets we have lost to competitors.
The recent events, not yet fully calmed, will also take their toll on the coming summer season, because reservations for that period should have started last month. This means that stability will have to be restored soon if we want to save the next winter season.

How do the clashes in Cairo affect tourist flows to areas away from the unrest like Sharm El-Sheikh?
Egypt brands itself as a one-package tourist destination, and as a result events in one place affect every other. This is totally unacceptable and unfair, because most potential tourists are not aware of the level of safety at each destination.

Egypt has been going through great instability as a result of the transitional period that followed the revolution. What have been the cumulative effects?
The tourism industry has lost more than 400,000 people from its trained labour force over the last two years. It will be very costly to replace them, and this will add to the losses suffered by the sector as a whole, estimated at more than LE60 billion from January 2011 to January 2013.
Moreover, according to the tourism and travel index of the World Economic Forum, Egypt has fallen back from 64th place in 2009 to 75th in 2011. As for the global competitiveness index, Egypt went down from 81st place in 2010-2011 to 107th (out of 144 countries) in 2012-2013.

What can be done to help the industry recover and achieve a better competitive position?
There is no doubt that the most important thing is sustainable security and stability. In addition to that, the Travel and Tourism Sub-Council has drawn up a strategic plan, which we are discussing with the ministry of tourism and other industry players.
Because Egypt has varied tourism products, each with its own distinctive features, the plan suggests that Egypt should be divided into different tourist destinations that could be marketed independently. Rebranding Egypt as a tourist destination will also be needed, because each sub-destination will promote and market itself independently, as is the case of Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, for example.
According to the plan, the Red Sea could be one destination promoting itself as a beach tourism spot. Siwa and the desert oasis would be destinations for adventure and desert tourism. Cairo and Upper Egypt are cultural tourism hubs.
If the plan is implemented, each destination would be independent and any event, violent or not, that takes place in one part of the country would not affect every other. This is one important way to keep tourist flows more stable and contribute to a more steady growth in the tourism sector.

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