Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

E-tourism

Egypt needs a fresh Internet campaign to draw tourists back to its rich array of sites and attractions, many of which appear to be unknown to much of the world, writes Mohamed Salmawy

Al-Ahram Weekly

When we decided to hold the 7th general conference of the African and Asian Writers Union (AAWU) in El-Gouna, the purpose was to draw the attention of participants who came from 42 countries on the two continents to Egypt’s great touristic sites. The conference’s guests returned home saddened by the grave slump in the Egyptian tourism industry, which they blamed on many sources, including Egypt itself.

Certainly, the distorted image that the international media has been circulating on the situation in Egypt has been a major cause of the unprecedented decline in the numbers of tourists. In fact, the conference itself was a victim of this distorted image. Quite a few union members notified us that they would be unable to attend due to “the situation in Egypt”. We tried our best to correct their misperceptions. Some were convinced and decided to attend after all; others felt caution was the best policy.

As we discovered from our guests who hailed from diverse African and Asian nations, whose various media we in Egypt do not monitor, the distorted image is not a monopoly of Western news outlets with an anti-Egyptian bias, such as CNN, The New York Times or The Washington Post. It is a global phenomenon that is to be found even in some countries that consider themselves our friends.

The reason for this is that many of these countries’ media outlets depend on the reports of Western news agencies because their own news agencies do not have the capacities to have their own staff of reporters. Also, the state of our own foreign-oriented media has deteriorated so severely that Egypt’s voice is virtually absent from the international field.

Of course, we should not forget the major international public relations firms that have been contracted by the Muslim Brotherhood, whether directly or indirectly. Countries such as Qatar and Turkey foot the bill for these services, which cost millions of dollars.

By major PR firms, I refer to those with the resources to arrange, for example, a visit by a member of the US Congress to the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in site and film him among all those “peace-loving” sitters-in who had concealed their weapons while the camera crew trailed behind the congressman during that visit, later aired on US television screens, and that evidently took place without the knowledge of the Egyptian authorities.

So that this distorted image can sustain a level of credibility, certain parties at home engage in acts of sabotage whenever possible. Were it not for such repeated acts, tourism would have already begun to recover, almost seven months since the Russian airplane crash inflicted a debilitating blow from which Egyptian tourism is still suffering.

Yet the security situation in Egypt is certainly much less worrisome than in some countries whose press disseminates a notion that Egypt is “unstable”. Terrorism has struck everywhere. Shortly before leaving the conference, the Senegalese representative, Abdoulaye Fodé Ndione, related that he had been able to come to Egypt and return home safely whereas during his last visit to France a huge explosion occurred in the arrondissement next to the one where his hotel was located.

Our guests’ most common observation was, “You have fantastic tourist attractions that we had never known of, apart from the pyramids, the antiquities and the museums in the capital.”

They were awed by the tourist attractions on offer in Hurghada, which is not even the most important tourist resort in Egypt.
This included submarine tours to view choral reefs considered the most important in the world after those in Australia; the sand museum; a boat outing into the Red Sea; dinner in a Bedouin tent in the desert; a visit to the yacht club to see yachts of all kinds; sumptuous meals in restaurants in world-class hotels. These facilities and attractions were made available to our guests thanks to the administration of the El-Gouna tourist village and the Red Sea governorate.

Yet with every new awe-inspiring activity, our guests could not help but to fault us. “How is that we never knew all these things existed? Why is it that people abroad do not have sufficient information about this, especially at a time when Egypt needs every tourist who might chose to come here?” they asked.

The AAWU deputy for Asia, Nepalese Yuk Pathak, told me: “If you asked your average tourist in the world why they would want to come to Egypt, the majority would say, to see the pyramids and Pharaonic antiquities. A lesser percentage would say, the beaches of Sharm El-Sheikh. Very few are aware of what is on offer in Hurghada, which is a first-class tourist resort. Those concerned with the tourism industry should devote more attention to this, especially after what happened to Sharm El-Sheikh in the wake of the Russian airline disaster.”

This brings us to the type of publicity the tourism industry needs. The days of posters and billboards are over. We are now in the digital age, which in the long term costs considerably less than conventional pre-paid publicity in newspapers or in the street. Moreover, increasing numbers of people are arranging their trips and holidays without turning to tour companies, which have to adhere to official instructions to be able to take out insurance policies for the tours they organise.

There is a new generation of tourists that book and organise every aspect of their trips via the Internet, from flights and accommodation to sightseeing. These types of tourist do not necessarily heed what their countries’ foreign ministries tell tourist companies.

It is up to us to help the people who arrange their holidays this way to make up their minds. We need to inform them on what to expect. We need to acquaint them with the facilities and attractions on offer in our various tourist resorts, which the participants at the conference had not even known existed.

Egypt may be the only country in the world that can offer tourists unparalleled antiquities from the Pharaonic era through the Hellenic, Roman, Coptic and Islamic eras, along with museums housing treasures of a quality and quantity unrivalled by any other museum in the world. At the same time, we have magical deserts, sparkling beaches, maritime marvels and a moderate climate year-round.

Drawing tourists back to Egypt these days increasingly relies on publicity campaigns that are launched on the Internet. It is no longer necessary to wait until government authorities abroad notify tour companies that they can resume excursions to Egypt.

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