Egypt took part in this year’s World Travel Market (WTM), held in London from 5 to 7 November, with a new look as technology reigned supreme in the country’s two-floor suite at this important professional event, with visitors being invited to put on virtual reality headsets and view Egypt’s many tourist destinations.
A hologram of the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) was also on show.
“Egypt’s suite looked better than ever,” said Hisham Idriss, a member of the Egyptian Chamber of Tourism Companies, who was present at the WTM.
“The GEM hologram was also remarkable, particularly because the museum’s director was also present to explain the new institution. This was a good move to promote Egypt,” he added.
The first floor of Egypt’s suite, spread over 630 square metres, included display areas for private-sector companies and the Federation of Tourism Chambers and a simulation area in which visitors were virtually transported to Egypt’s tourist sites using state-of-the-art techniques and holograms.
After electronic registration upon entering, visitors were able to watch documentary films on giant screens about Egypt. Awe-inspiring virtual experiences were on offer, such as images of the giant statue of Ramses II that adorned the entrance to the suite and landscapes by the Red and Mediterranean Seas.
The second floor of the suite was allocated to seminars and lectures. It also included offices for meetings between Minister of Tourism Rania Al-Mashat and foreign officials and company owners.
“Visitors to this year’s WTM could experience some of Egypt’s most breathtaking spots, such as Sinai, Saint Catherine’s, and the Red Sea beaches, through virtual reality headsets,” said Idriss.
Based on the number of visitors to Egypt’s suite at the WTM, he expects an influx of tourists to the country in the winter season.
Al-Mashat said that Egypt could offer many different kinds of tourism and that the ministry was working to attract different types of holidaymakers. She stated that Egypt was receiving more tourists from emerging markets in addition to its traditional ones.
She explained features of the new promotional campaign that depend on branding by destination, including Siwa, Luxor, Aswan and Sharm El-Sheikh.
She also met with Gloria Guevara, president of the World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC) and former minister of tourism of Mexico, to discuss Egypt’s promotional tools and highlight the country’s vast tourism potential.
With Peter Fankhauser, CEO of the Thomas Cook Group, Al-Mashat discussed ways of increasing the size of the group’s business in Egypt and of opening up to tourists from China and Eastern Europe, as well as the possibility of cooperation between the ministry and the group in joint campaigns.
Fankhauser said there was increasing demand from tourists to visit Egypt, particularly Luxor and Marsa Alam. The next season was very promising, he added.
“Egypt’s suite at the WTM could have better been divided according to tourist destinations, offering an area for the Red Sea, another for Sinai, a third for cultural tourism, and so on. This would have been in line with the ministry’s promotional plan that depends on branding by destination,” Idriss suggested.
Other promotional tools that Egypt intends to use include a campaign entitled “People to People” which aims to change mental images of Egypt and Egyptians, and another campaign which will be launched before the inauguration of the GEM in 2020.
“The Egyptian suite was creative and eye-catching,” said Kamel Abu Ali, head of the Pickalbatros Group and an investor in the Red Sea governorate. He said the displays in the suite marked the beginning of new promotional methods.
“The suite saw a remarkable turnout on the part of tour operators for Egypt’s companies and hotels. Reservations for the winter season in Marsa Alam and Hurghada are seeing a 50 per cent increase on last year. Trips arriving from the UK to Luxor and Aswan recorded an astounding increase on last year,” Abu Ali added.
Al-Mashat told the news channel Bloomberg at the WTM that the number of tourists to Egypt was now approaching that seen in 2010. Compared to last year, the first nine months of 2018 had seen a 40 per cent increase in the number of tourists, reaching eight million, she said, adding that by the end of this year Egypt would reach the 2010 record.
In 2010, more than 14 million tourists visited Egypt. The numbers plummeted after the 25 January Revolution.
“The fact that the WTM was held in tandem with the World Youth Forum in Sharm El-Sheikh, which was attended by delegations from all over the world, was a notable promotional boost for Sinai and Sharm El-Sheikh as safe locations,” said Abu Ali.
During her meeting with Guevara, Al-Mashat suggested that Egypt could host the next WTTC conference, especially after the recent opening of Sharm El-Sheikh’s International Conference Centre.
The centre, having a usable area of over 30,000 square metres, comprises a main hall and six smaller halls and is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. It can hold up to 7,000 people.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Tourism back on track