Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Desperate times for tourism

Egypt should try unconventional measures to draw back tourists, writes Niveen Wahish

Desperate times for tourism
Desperate times for tourism
Al-Ahram Weekly

If you head to the Red Sea resorts of Hurghada or Marsa Alam any time until the end of this month, you might bump into a mermaid, or rather one of the finalists in the Miss Mermaid Pageant. The contestants are judged on their face and body, charisma, and mermaid costume, as well as diving long distance and posing underwater. 

The Egyptian Tourism Office in Berlin convinced the German organisers of this event to take the contest to Egypt and succeeded in getting sponsorship for it from several Egyptian companies. 

This is an event watched by 100 million viewers across the world, Tamer Marzouk, counsellor with the Egypt Tourism Office in Berlin, told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that it would give Egypt huge exposure abroad. The free coverage provided by the event was equivalent to 650,000 euros last year, he pointed out. 

The Pageant is one of the creative ways Egypt has adopted in trying to attract tourists back to the country. The tourism sector received a hard blow a year ago when a Russian plane crashed over Sharm El-Sheikh with 224 passengers and crew on board. Since then Russia has suspended flights to the resort city. 

Tourism revenues fell by 66 per cent in the first quarter of 2016. Receipts have been $4.5 billion in 2016 compared to $6.1 billion in 2015. Tourism revenues of $12.5 billion were recorded in 2010.

For the past few months there has been news that Russia is about to resume flights to Sharm El-Sheikh. The Russians have requested stricter security at Egyptian airports, and this request has been met. Yet, the flights remain suspended, and the problem has not only affected Russian flights. Britain has also suspended flights to the resort city.

“It is a political decision,” Amr Fawzi, treasurer of the Chamber of Tourism Agencies in Upper Egypt, told the Weekly, adding that Egypt had done a lot over the past year to meet the requirements of the Russians. 

In addition to tightening security, the Egyptian government has handed security screening at the Sharm El-Sheikh Airport to the National Falcon Company for Airport Security. Falcon will be in charge of passenger and luggage security in the Airport’s halls, while the police will secure the terminals, parking lots and buildings.

“We thought that they’d put in some pretty sophisticated checks, and we think a lot has been done,” Gerald Howarth, chairman of the taskforce in charge of strengthening ties between the UK and Egypt, said after a recent visit to Sharm El-Sheikh Airport, the UK newspaper the Telegraph reported recently.

 “But, most importantly, we talked to a representative from the UK’s department for transport who also felt that conditions had been met to enable flights to resume,” he added.

Travel and tourism generated 1,110,500 jobs directly in Egypt in 2015, or 4.4 per cent of total employment, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Travel & Tourism’s Economic Impact 2016 report. 

These jobs include employment by hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services, excluding commuter services. They also include the activities of the restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists.

Egypt’s tourist numbers fell over 50 per cent to 2.3 million during the first half of 2016 compared to 4.8 million the year before, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS). It attributed the decline to the decrease in the number of Russian tourists by 54.9 per cent and tourists from the UK by 14.9 per cent, news Website Masriya reported.

Russian tourists topped the list of arrivals to Egypt in 2012, followed by the UK and Germany, according to the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research.

The Red Sea market also continues to feel the repercussions of travel alerts from a number of European feeder markets. Demand has slowed to its lowest in years and hotels are depending heavily on the domestic market to fill rooms, Colliers International’s September 2016 MENA Hotel Forecasts report said. 

The report said that the revenue per available room (RevPAR) in Sharm El-Sheikh had fallen 52 per cent year-on-year in forecasts for 2016. RevPAR in Hurghada was also down by 43 per cent. 

“Hurghada remains in stasis due to travel bans from major feeder markets such as the UK and Russia,” the report said, adding that “hotel operators are hopeful that these bans will be lifted by year end 2016.”

In the meantime, Egypt is not standing still. Recently it announced the launch of a new campaign at a cost of 63 million euros over three years to attract back tourists. 

“We have started a large marketing campaign with a large number of German television stations, accompanied by an online campaign as well as advertisements in the streets and on vehicles,” Tamer Marzouk told the Weekly. “We expect that this campaign will increase demand for Egypt.”

Marzouk said that diplomatic efforts had succeeded in restoring flights from Germany to Sharm El-Sheikh, which should encourage other European countries to fly to the resort as Germany is known for its high security standards. Up to 101 flights are planned per week starting from the end of October, he said, promising a good winter season.

More flights is key, according to Amr Fawzi, who said that EgyptAir should operate flights to all the destinations that have suspended flights to Egypt, even at a loss. 

“There are tourists who want to come to Egypt despite the tourism alerts, but they do not have ways to do so,” he said. Egyptian insurance companies should also step in to fill the void left by international companies who do not want to cover Egypt, he said.

 “Desperate times call for desperate remedies,” Fawzi said. “We no longer get that many advanced bookings. Things are all done at the last minute, with some tourists taking the decision to come to Egypt when they find a good package.”

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