Monday,20 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)
Monday,20 August, 2018
Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Time to diversify tourism

Former minister of tourism Mounir Fahkri Abdel-Nour tells Dina Ezzat that building confidence and pursuing partners abroad are essential to bringing tourists back to Egypt

Al-Ahram Weekly

It was in February 2011, after the 25 January Revolution had forced an end to the rule of President Hosni Mubarak, that Mounir Fahkri Abdel-Nour, a prominent member of the Wafd Party and a businessman, was appointed minister of tourism.

His job was to manage the drop in numbers suffered by the important foreign currency-generating industry, and to make sure that the things picked up fast.

“Had it not been for some very unfortunate developments, things could have been managed back then because, despite the demonstrations and the political developments, Egypt had an inspiring, positive image. The world admired the story the international media were broadcasting from Tahrir Square, and we could have acted fast to capitalise on it,” Abdel-Nour told Al-Ahram Weekly.

What prevented better management of the drop in the volume of tourists visiting the country — from 15 million in 2010 to 10 million in 2011 — Abdel-Nour says, were the problems that started to send out a negative image about the situation in Egypt, among them the violence against Coptic protestors in October 2011 and the attacks on young demonstrators in November and December 2011.

“Those were images of instability, unlike the images of the 25 January demonstrations, which were messages of hope and new beginnings,” he said.

Abdel-Nour regrets that little attention was given to his appeals during his time in the cabinet, which ended in August 2012. He wanted the state to consider the repercussions of the political and security measures that were being taken on the image of Egypt abroad and on the flow of tourism.

“Somehow things could have been managed in a different way. I think we should have avoided the slip towards crisis,” he said.

According to figures that Abdel-Nour does not deny, there was a moment of hope for stability in the wake of the election of Mohamed Morsi as president in 2012, even though Abdel-Nour refused to work with him.

But that was a brief moment when the world thought that Egypt was moving towards stability. “Then it was more confrontations, and this time at a more disturbing level,” he said.

The 3 July 2013 announcement of the ouster of Morsi in the wake of the 30 June demonstrations, “that showed without any doubt that the army had intervened on the wishes of the people”, offered a challenging moment for the image of Egypt abroad, Abdel-Nour said.

“All of us, with no one excluded from blame, failed to live up to the challenge of convincing the world that what happened in 2013 was not a coup,” he said.

And when the world was starting to overcome its scepticism and accept the new political reality in Egypt, there was one unfortunate event after another, from the killing of the Mexican tourists in the Western Desert, to the crash of the Russian plane, and the death of the Italian student, Giulio Regeni.

“At the end of the day we ended up with a colossal problem of confidence,” Abdel-Nour said. “If we wish today to overcome the unprecedented drop in the volume of tourism to Egypt, which is depriving the country of foreign currency in a very grave way, we need to acknowledge that we made some mistakes and to work on fixing those mistakes.”

For Abdel-Nour, there is no need to engage in polemics on what to do. “It is obvious: there are certain things that have damaged the level of confidence in Egypt as a favourite tourist destination, and these things have to be attended to now and not later,” he said.

This simply means that when the Russian authorities say they are too worried to allow their tourists to come back to Egypt after the suspension forced by the plane crash late last year, the official reaction from Egypt should be to “immediately invite a Russian delegation to come and inspect firsthand the upgrading of security measures that have been introduced to the airports, rather than engage in a media offensive that only complicates things further,” he said.

“What we have been doing is just to talk to ourselves and to keep blaming the world for an assumed conspiracy against Egypt. This is not what we need. We need to talk to the world and realise that tourists want to come back and that governments will want to send them back provided that they trust that their safety is not compromised.”

He said that no promotional campaign will work unless Egypt “attends to these matters”. Said Abdel-Nour, “We don’t need to remind the world that we have the most beautiful beaches, or that we have the Pyramids. We need to reassure the world that tourists are safe in Egypt and that whatever unfortunate incidents have occurred are outside the norm. This is why rescuing the tourism industry is not just the responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism, but is a collective mission that should be promptly addressed.”

Meanwhile, the government should provide all the support it can, given the overall economic situation, to those in the industry to make sure that facilities are not run down due to maintenance and other problems.

Abdel-Nour also suggested that Egypt work in “untypical markets while waiting for our traditional markets to recover”. China, India, South Africa and Brazil, he said, could offer a new flow of tourists to Egypt as part of the growing interest these countries have for tourism in general.

“These countries provide the world market with a bigger number of tourists, and we should try to secure as big a share as possible of them,” he said. Egypt should also explore its options for joint packages with neighbouring countries to attract tourists hoping to visit the region for a minimum of 15 hours.

“If you think of a tourist coming from China, you may wish to sell him a visit to Egypt, Jordan and Greece at the same time, which will encourage him to come more than if you just send him to one country,” he argued.

Moreover, Abdel-Nour suggested that there are unexplored categories of tourists that need to be approached. He said that there are many tourists who want to visit the churches and monasteries of Egypt and wish to follow the route taken by the Holy Family in Egypt.

This market had been largely overlooked, he said, along with the entire brand of religious tourism due to security apprehensions about visits to mosques and mausoleums in Egypt.

“There are so many areas that have not been attended to because we have been too focussed on what has gone well in the past, such as beaches, ancient Egyptian temples, and desert safaris. Now is the time to diversify,”Abdel-Nour said.

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