Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

More action needed

The campaign to promote local tourism does not seem to be reviving the ailing industry, reports Noha Mustafa

Al-Ahram Weekly

Probably the only jam-packed spot in the Red Sea resort of El-Gouna over the past few weeks was when Egyptian footballer Mohamed Abu Treika made an appearance in the downtown area and tourists, workers and casual bystanders gathered around him to take pictures of this footballer who made his 100th appearance with the Egyptian national team when he played the World Cup qualifier against Guinea in El-Gouna last week. 

“I wish we had more action here,” said Ahmed Atta, a waiter from Aswan standing near half-empty tables at the Tamr Henna Restaurant in the marina area. “It is always good to have the place full, but things don’t seem to be picking up,” he added.

Such gloomy predictions could be in danger of coming true in the light of the shaky political situation in the country and reflected in the extension of the state of emergency to mid-November. More tourists flocking to the lavish, sunny but vacant beaches of El-Gouna seem unlikely.

The Red Sea coasts, from Sinai down to the country’s southern borders, are scattered with tourist facilities. El-Gouna, meaning the lagoon, is a luxurious tourist resort developed and owned by Orascom Hotels and Development 22km north of Hurghada International Airport.

For years, it has been a preferred destination for tourists in search of sun-drenched beaches, especially when it also boasts a variety of water sports, such as diving, snorkelling, skiing, wind and kite-surfing.

However, El-Gouna, lacking foreign tourists, has been included in the initiative launched by the ministry of tourism to promote local tourism. According to this initiative, called Baladna Awla Beena, packages for three nights at four- and five-star hotels at Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada resorts are available at prices starting from LE1,200 to LE1,800 per person, including a return ticket.

The campaign was supposed to last for two weeks, but it has been extended until 21 September. But very few people in El-Gouna have heard of it.

“The initiative lacked bang. The publicity has been minimal. People here have hardly heard of it or felt its impact on their businesses. For such initiatives to have a strong effect on the struggling industry, they should last for a number of months at a time,” said Hani Abu Raya, finance manager at Heritage Spas Egypt.

The short-lived initiative was meant for Egyptian families, but as the school year is starting soon this could discourage many families. “The school year will start soon, and we will lose the few Egyptian tourists who have been visiting El-Gouna. I hope that the Bairum holiday will see some improvement,” Atta said.

Abu Raya, who has 12 years experience in the tourism industry, mostly spent at El-Gouna, said the initiative would only bring in some 4,000-5,000 people, not many when one considers the numbers the Red Sea resorts have been used to hosting. “It will barely have any impact on hotel bookings,” he said.

He also criticised the initiative for targeting well-heeled Egyptians, “A family of four will still pay about LE5,000 for the trip, which is not cheap.” Abu Raya added that discounted offers temporarily helped hotels with cash-flow problems, but that they did not solve the problems of the industry as a whole.

“The initiative promotes El-Gouna as a cheap destination, as cheap as LE100 a night in some of the smaller hotels. Some packages sold to Europeans are now as cheap as 1,000 euros for a week, including a return ticket.” Many hotels have been agreeing to such discounted prices to spare themselves and their workers the risk of closing down, he explained.

Since the 25 January Revolution, the number of tourists in Egypt has been declining, and people working in this industry have been under pressure to keep their businesses afloat.

According to Egypt’s official statistics agency, CAPMAS, there has been a huge drop in tourists visiting Egypt due to the country’s political crisis. The number of tourists visiting Egypt in July 2013 reached 765,000, a plunge of 25 per cent from the same month a year earlier. Most industry observers point out that August was as bad, if not worse.

This brings the total number of tourists visiting Egypt in the first seven months of 2013 to 6.7 million, an eight per cent increase on the 6.2 million in 2012. The CAPMAS report showed that the total number of nights spent by tourists in Egypt had decreased 40.1 per cent year on year last July, totalling 6.8 million, compared to 11.4 million in 2012.

Many hotels have closed down as a result, and five hotels shut in Hurghada and four others in Marsa Alam and Safaga last week, bringing the total number of hotels that have closed in the Red Sea governorate to 86 out of a total of 248, according to figures issued by the Red Sea Chamber of Tourism.

“In Hurghada, dozens of hotels and tourist villages have laid off seasonal workers and given 50 per cent of their permanent employees leave, paying them only their basic salaries,” Abu Raya said.

As for those hotels that have managed to stay open, the occupancy level has declined to between 20 and 25 per cent, despite efforts to drum up domestic tourism.

“The occupancy rates in hotels and resorts have declined,” Abu Raya said. “We are faced with massive cancellations and no new bookings for the next few months.”

“As long as the military tanks are on the streets, I don’t think tourists will return at full strength any time soon. Having a curfew and a state of emergency doesn’t help all the efforts being made to revive tourism. The situation appears unsafe to the outside world,” he said.

European governments gave negative travel advice to their citizens following last month’s violent clashes in Cairo and some other governorates, with Germany and Russia extending travel warnings for the first time to Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada.

“Tourism in Hurghada depends on charter flights, and as many countries have decided to halt their fights to El-Gouna, hotel occupancy rates in the Red Sea resorts have fallen dramatically,” Abu Raya said. “The result of the negative travel advice will be felt for months to come. I expect it will take until February for things to pick up again,” he added.

El-Gouna has recently launched a social-media campaign to promote its safety as a destination. Over recent weeks, images of foreigners and local residents have been circulating on social media websites, saying “we are safe in Hurghada and El-Gouna.”

Italian tourist Maria Liadori told Al-Ahram Weekly that she was taking her chances with her trip to the elegant Abu Tig Marina built in the Mediterranean chic style of Saint Tropez. “It’s been good so far. It is very safe here,” she said.

“I love El-Gouna,” Rossini, another tourist said. “It is heart-rending to see how the crisis has affected the local businesses here,” he added, pointing to the few people in the shops and the unfilled restaurants.

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