Travel agencies participating in the travel show ITB Berlin held from 7 to 11 March in the German capital said international demand was increasing for Egyptian destinations for the next summer and winter seasons.
The Thomas Cook International Group informed its Egyptian agency to expect a 50 per cent increase throughout the year.
Head of the Egyptian Federation of Tourism Chambers Nora Ali said reservations for the summer and winter seasons had recorded a 45 and 45 to 50 per cent increase, respectively, over the past year.
In Berlin to attend the business platform for global tourism offers, Ali told the media that while Egypt’s tourist destinations would be receiving more travellers, many reservations were made by families, not individuals, “which means Egypt is regaining its positive image in tourists’ minds.”
Cultural tourism is also making a comeback, as head of the Escapade travel agency, Mounir Wissa, said. “Winter reservations from Canada, France, the US and Belgium are on the rise,” he said, describing this as good news for the agency which owns its own cruise boats.
However, in order to capitalise fully on the rebound in tourism Wissa wanted to see more help from the state, represented by loan facilities from the Central Bank of Egypt, so that Egyptian hotel owners could renovate their premises and upgrade their services in order to increase prices.
“To guarantee increasing demand for Egypt’s tourist destinations we need to see different promotional methods that suit each market,” said Hamed Al-Sheiti, head of the Travco travel agency.
“Our primary focus should be markets that export young travellers in large numbers, and we should be holding concerts, promoting marine games and other exciting activities to attract them,” he added.
Minister of Tourism Rania Al-Mashat earlier stated that Egypt was banking on the 2017 tourism revival to further increase the number of tourists visiting the country. “We should be more flexible and faster in our promotional campaigns,” she said.
Egypt needed a strategy that could easily be moulded according to the different needs of each market to attract more tourists, she added.
Al-Mashat told Reuters that reservations during the first quarter of 2018 had indicated that more nationalities were pouring into Egypt, with a significant rise in the number of tourists from Poland, China and Austria.
With the loss of tourists from the Egyptian market over the past few years, travel prices have decreased due to cut-throat competition between tourism agencies and hotels, Al-Sheiti said. “Increased demand translates into more expensive prices. When the number of tourists increased in 2017, prices witnessed a 13 per cent hike,” he stated.
There was a 6.53 per cent increase in the number of tourists visiting Egypt in 2017, reaching 2.8 million travellers.
“The quality of service offered by hotels also determines prices. The more the state lifts subsidies on fuel and electricity, the more the tourism sector will be obliged to raise its prices,” Tarek Imam, director of the Travel Line agency which owns Nile cruisers operating between Cairo and Aswan, said.
“When the government lifts subsidies on diesel fuel, with which our boats operate, cruise-boat owners will be forced to increase their prices. Offering Nile cruise itineraries at cheap prices makes it difficult for owners to renovate and maintain their boats. Some 70 per cent of cruise boats are in need of renewal,” Imam said.
High prices coupled with quality services will not drive tourists away, Imam said. The travel agent’s price for one night on one of his cruise boats costs “between $150 and $180. But other boats might offer a night for $20,” he added.
“Increased demand depends on flight flexibility. The government might think about intervening to schedule flights from different cities, in the German market for example, to make it easier for smaller travel agencies to arrange itineraries to Egypt,” Ihab Abdel-Aal, head of the Blue Moon travel agency, said.
“Big travel companies that own their own hotels in coastal cities such as Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada have the leverage to offer travel programmes at lower prices.”
“Increasing prices depends on the quality of services and the rise in demand. We have increased the price of reservations by 20 per cent this year due to the influx of tourists,” Mohamed Hassanein, head of the Galaxia tourism agency, said.
“Diplomatic efforts should be exerted by the state to lift the travel warnings issued by countries such as the UK and Spain to some Egyptian tourist destinations,” he added.
Hassanein believes that each market has its own promotional keys that should be explored in order to attract the largest number of tourists of different nationalities.
For Al-Mashat, the better training of executives is essential for successful travel plans. A European Union-funded training programme is currently in progress, and the Luzan School for Hotel Management in Alamein on the North Coast will be inaugurated soon.
“The Federation of Tourism Chambers is focused on enhancing the skills of workers in the travel sector to upgrade the services offered to tourists, especially since many experienced workers left the sector when tourism went down over the past few years,” Ali said.
“The federation started a programme to train chefs at hotels in Hurghada and Marsa Alam at the beginning of March. The programme will move to Sharm El-Sheikh this week and will then be taken to Cairo and Luxor, targeting some 240 chefs,” she added.
English-language courses for workers in the travel sector are also being organised.
“The federation is executing short- and medium-term programmes in addition to long-term three-year plans to ensure the continuity of training schemes that have been almost absent from the market for more than 18 months,” she concluded.
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly