With the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) football tournament kicking off in Cairo tomorrow, it is not only the sport’s fans that are elated that the tournament is being held in Egypt. So is the country’s tourism sector in the hope that the competition will boost Egypt’s image on the world tourism map.
Good behaviour throughout the competition is a make-or-break for the AFCON to succeed as a promotional event for Egypt’s tourism, said Kamel Abu Ali, head of the tourism subcommittee at the AFCON organising committee. “Proper conduct and the cleanliness of airports and other facilities will contribute in a major way to the event’s overall success,” he said.
The committee launched an awareness campaign called “Welcome to Egypt” on social-media platforms earlier this week as a reminder of positive gestures that can help tourists gain a positive image of the country they are visiting.
AFCON’s tourism subcommittee has organised itineraries for North African sports delegations to visit destinations such as Sharm El-Sheikh while they are in Egypt cheering for their national teams. Abu Ali said that such trips were an example of promotional campaigns for Egypt’s tourism if the delegations left with good impressions.
African tourists account for two per cent of Egypt’s incoming travelers, according to Maged Abul-Kheir, deputy head of parliament’s African Affairs Committee. Last year, 11 million tourists from around the globe visited Egypt, up from eight million in 2017. They spent 121 million nights in the country.
African tourists are only a fraction of those that visit Egypt, however, with Nigeria coming in first with 49,000 tourists followed by South Africa with 22,000 visitors.
These were low figures, said Hisham Al-Demeiri, former head of the Egypt Tourism Development Authority. The main reason for the limited influx of African tourists was the weak airline network, he added.
Cairo is linked to the African capitals only through regular flights organised by the national carrier EgyptAir, and there are no low-cost private airlines. African visitors could also have problems obtaining visas, Al-Demeiri said, though electronic visas would help increase the number of African tourists in Egypt.
The country has multiple forms of tourism that cater to African holidaymakers, including cultural tourism, beaches, religious and therapeutic tourism, and shopping complexes. More attention needed to be directed to the African market, Abu Ali said, particularly since it has “vast opportunities to grow. Turkey receives 1.2 million Moroccan tourists a year, for example,” he said.
The 32nd AFCON competition is an invaluable chance to enlarge Egypt’s tourism and investment sectors because the tournament, in which 24 national teams will play, will put Egypt in the international limelight, Abu Ali said.
The competition will attract the attention of sports fans from all over the world, in addition to international media coverage.
Al-Demeiri explained that the events could be used for promotional purposes in three phases. Advertising the assets of the country to improve its image and the camps where the teams will be staying throughout the competition should be run before, during, and after the tournament, he said.
The right set of circumstances to promote Egypt’s tourism sector is in the country’s hands, Al-Demeiri added. More than 60 per cent of the African footballers participating in the AFCON played professionally in European clubs, and they had millions of fans around the world, he added.
Hotel occupancy rates should spike during the competition, and tourists from the Arab world will converge on Egypt to attend AFCON, Ali Okda, chair of Global Tourism International, a tourism company, said.
He added the opening ceremony of the competition, together with shots of football stars like Mohamed Salah of Liverpool Football Club in the UK visiting tourist sites and cities like Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada, should be capitalised on for promotional material about Egypt, Okda added.
He said AFCON had not been promoted enough in the international media, and that Egypt should have promoted this African event more in South Africa, Nigeria, and North Africa, from where large numbers of vacationers travel.
The Ministry of Tourism needs to use the professional footballers in the competition in running adverting material on Egypt, said Ali Al-Manesterli, head of Alexandria’s Chamber of Tourism Companies.
He added that when the African players post photographs of themselves in Egypt, this will be excellent promotion for the country. He gave an example of the video posted by Salah on social networking sites about his stay in Gouna.
The cities where the AFCON matches will take place are well prepared to receive the African teams and their fans. Alexandria, for example, has 5,000 hotel rooms and, it is expected to receive 1,000 fans, Al-Manesterli said.
*A version of this article was first published in the 20 June print edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the title: Promoting football tourism