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Egypt tourism officials expect little change under Morsi – for now

Many of those working in Egypt's once-thriving tourism sector don't expect radical changes under the country's new Islamist leadership – at least in the short term

Ahmed Feteha, Wednesday 27 Jun 2012
Egypt beach
In peril? Tourists relax at a Sinai resort (Photo: Reuters)
Views: 5133
Views: 5133

An Islamist's ascension to Egypt's peak of executive power has sparked the hopes of many, but the country's battered tourism industry is showing concern about its future under Mohamed Morsi's stewardship.

Workers in Egypt's tourism industry, which depends on the millions of Europeans who descend on Egypt’s Red Sea resorts each summer, are fearful of a new conservative administration they believe might impose restrictive laws that scare away visitors.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has repeatedly denied it has any plans to restrict tourist activities. Such pledges, however, have failed to silence the doubters, whether in Egypt's media or in the industry itself.

"They say all the right things, but this isn't enough. We still need to see policy," Sami Mahmoud, head of the international sector at Egypt's Ministry of Tourism, told Ahram Online.

Despite the country's world famous pharaonic ruins, it is beach tourism that makes up the vast proportion of Egypt's tourism activity.

Around 11.1 million Europeans visited the country in 2010, mostly through package tours to Red Sea resort cities Hurghada and Sharm Al-Sheikh.

Sceptics find it hard to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood and its new president-elect will tolerate the European tourist lifestyle, characterised by parties, abundant alcohol and what some see as "indecent" clothing.

FJP officials, however, appear stung by claims that they will make radical changes.

"People working in tourism do not have any reason to worry," said Hazem Shawky, head of the party's tourism committee. "We're practical. We will not take any decisions that would harm the livelihoods of the millions of Egyptians who work in the industry."

It is not, however, the pragmatic nature of the Brotherhood and its FJP that are being questioned. Rather, it is the ideological grounds on which the movement was formed more than 80 years ago, and which have enabled its recent political successes.

Can the Brotherhood, now that it is at the pinnacle of its power, refrain from implementing what it believes to be God's orders simply because they may be impractical?

It's a question to which Shawky did not provide a straightforward answer. 

He did, however, insist that the FJP would not take any action it found to be "against the law or the will of the people."

"We must look at the advantages and disadvantages of any decision, even if it complies with Islamic Law," he added.

Shawky would not elaborate, either, on how Egypt's tourism industry might look in ten years' time, saying only that the FJP wanted to "add variety" to the industry by encouraging non-beach tourism, including the potentially-lucrative health and culture niches.

These wishes were criticised by Elhamy El-Zayat, head of Egypt's Federation of Chambers of Tourism and owner of a tourist agency with offices in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

"Talk about replacing beach tourism with other forms of tourism is nonsense. All over the world, beach tourism is by far the most active and most lucrative kind," El-Zayat said.  

He added that the FJP's true intentions regarding Egypt's coastal resorts remained unclear. 

The FJP's Shawky, for his part, said: "People are changing and the party will reflect the people's will. So I can't tell you what the tourism sector will look like in the long term."

In the short term, however, any large-scale changes in Egypt's tourism sector appear unlikely. A deeply troubled economy means the country desperately needs the foreign currency and employment the sector has traditionally generated.

Tourism employs roughly one in eight Egyptians, and the 14.7 million tourists that visited the country in 2010 generated some $12.5 billion in foreign currency.

To maintain this flow, El-Zayat said, it is imperative that the "freedom of the tourist" not be tampered with.

"We are in fierce competition with 350 countries, and tourists will not come if we complicate their lives," he explained.

Other industry figures expressed similar views, but seemed more confident that things would remain more or less unchanged.

"Morsi is now responsible for the whole country, and he will not do anything to harm the economy," Reda Dawood, owner of the Lucky Tours tourist agency, explained.

Abdel-Aziz El-Shoheil, spokesman for the Saudi-Egyptian Touristic Development Company, which owns Cairo's landmark Grand Nile Tower Hotel, was similarly confident that little would change.

"Nobody can hide the sun," El-Shoheil said. "Looking at the experiences of other countries in which Islamist parties came to power, tourism was not affected – because that's simply not practical."

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02-07-2012 01:05pm
How about Egypt's corporate tourism and hotels stop its pricing discrimination in the Egyptian market based on nationality. Secondly, why not plan restructuring efforts in order to be able to cater to the local market? Egypt has the largest local consumer market in the middle east! Why marginalize the local market? It is the corporations' responsibility to adapt to change, and not to pressure the market/people to suit corporate needs (or their inappropriate management strategy). Is tourism a mafia or a business? Also, the media should support discussion on the democratization of business and the economy under the revolution, bikinis and beer aren't the only factors affecting tourism.
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