Monday,20 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)
Monday,20 November, 2017
Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Attracting the Koreans

Regaining the interest of South Korean tourists in Egypt should be one of the main outcomes of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s trip to the country

Al-Ahram Weekly

South Korean tourists are some of the richest in the world and are ardently sought after by tourist markets worldwide. The country is now fourth in the world in terms of economic growth, with an average per capita income of $24,000, writes Samia Fakhry. But South Korean tourism in Egypt slowed down after a tourist bus incident in Taba two years ago, in which all of the victims were Koreans.

Lee Yung, the owner of a Korean tourism company that has brought tourists to Egypt for 27 years, says that President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Korea this week will have a positive impact on tourism. He expects that the president, in his conversation with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, will argue that Egypt and Sinai in particular is safe and problem-free, thus offering reassurance to Korean tourists.

“Koreans have been unhappy that since the bombing of the tourist bus in Taba two years ago, no apology or condolences have been offered to the families of the victims despite the enormity of the incident. They need to be placated,” Yung said.

He added that because of the incident, South Korean tourism in Egypt had come to a screeching halt. Korean Air postponed direct flights to Egypt for six months, followed by another six months, before cancelling direct flights altogether. It then redirected three flights a week to Riyadh, in addition to its five daily flights to Qatar and the flights from Seoul run by Turkish Airlines and Emirates.

“As a result, South Korean tourists now have to fly some 20 hours on indirect flights to reach Egypt, twice the time needed for a direct flight,” Yung explained.

The question now is whether Egypt will be able to attract some of the 12 million South Korean tourists who travel abroad each year. Many of these tourists adore Egypt, seeing it as having played a hugely important cultural and religious role and being the “homeland of the prophets”.

According to data from the Ministry of Tourism in Cairo, 75,000 South Koreans visited Egypt in 2010, most of them high-value tourists who prefer to stay in five-star hotels and spend generously in restaurants, bazaars and shops.

Mohamed Fouad, the director of an Egyptian tourist company operating in the Korean market, expects that the president’s visit to South Korea will boost Korean tourism to Egypt by 40 per cent. It will also help Korean tourism companies, which will be able to use the visit to produce promotional materials and tourism programmes.

It will create jobs for the tourism reps, tour guides and restaurants and bazaars that were affected by the 2014 bus incident. Fouad added that before the 25 January Revolution, his company had run up to 70 tours a month, each with 20 to 25 South Korean tourists. This then fell to 10 to 20 tours per month.

Ahmed Hassanein, the owner of another Egyptian tourism company working in South Korean tourism, says that South Korean tourists are known for purchasing items from vendors in tourist areas like the Giza Pyramids. At St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai they buy Bedouin handicrafts and other products because these items are relatively inexpensive, and this encourages many small traditional businesses.

Asked how Korean tourists could be attracted back to Egypt, Yung said that some South Koreans think of bombings and other problems when they think of Egypt, imagining that Sinai, including Sharm El-Sheikh and other destinations, is completely closed. Yung said the Egyptian government should clarify matters with the Korean Embassy in Egypt and present an accurate portrayal of Egypt that will encourage more South Koreans to visit.

He said the first obstacle preventing more Korean tourism to Egypt was security. Some insurance companies will not issue insurance for South Koreans coming to Egypt, and without this airline tickets for group tours cannot be purchased, he added. Hassanein said that in such cases the insurance documents and tickets could be procured through the Emirates, but because of the extra taxes total costs were almost certainly higher.

Fouad said that the second obstacle was the suspension of flights. After the bus bombing, Korean Air suspended flights from Seoul to Cairo, meaning that there is now no direct route from South Korea to Egypt. Egyptair should route its daily flights to China through Seoul, he said, allowing Koreans who want to visit Egypt to use the national carrier on a direct flight.

Asked about the destinations Koreans prefer in Egypt, Hassanein said they generally preferred ten-day tours that start in Cairo, move to Aswan, and then continue with a Nile cruise to Luxor. From there, they often take a bus to Hurghada and then come back to Cairo.

Yung said that South Koreans enjoyed visiting Luxor and Alexandria, as well as St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, which they consider to be holy ground. In the past, some South Korean tourists have come to Egypt three times a year, liking particularly the climate in Hurghada. They often visit in April and May, he said, which coincides with the annual school vacation in South Korea.

Hassanein added that since many South Koreans are Christian they consider Egypt to be a sacred destination, perhaps even a pilgrimage site. On their way to Sinai, they follow the route taken by the Holy Family during its journey in Egypt and Moses’s trek to Mount Sinai.

“I travel every three months to Korea to bring tourists to Egypt and set up package tours in an attempt to bring back Korean tourism,” Hassanein said. “Last month, I managed to set up three groups, each of 20 to 25 people. This month there are two.”

Yung said that he met Tourism Minister Hisham Zazua last month to discuss ways to revive Korean tourism in Egypt. One way would be to invite Korean journalists, media figures, and representatives of the major tourism companies to visit Egypt, so they could see for themselves that the country was safe, he said. He added that South Korean journalists living in Egypt also send reports to the major Korean media outlets.

Hassanein reiterated the idea of Egyptair flights laying over in Korea on their way to Japan and China, especially since Koreans also like to travel to Africa and Europe. Yung said that Egypt could function as a portal into Africa for South Koreans by using its national airline.

There are daily flights from Korea to South Africa on Emirates, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, as well as KLM and Lufthansa, he said. “Meanwhile, Egyptair is nowhere to be found,” he said.

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