Tourism ministry takes 'This is Egypt' campaign to London as sector woes continue

Ahram Online , Tuesday 8 Nov 2016

A bikini-clad tourist reads a book at the beach of the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh (Photo: AFP)

Billboards displaying promotional materials from the tourism campaign "This is Egypt" have been raised in London as Egyptian tourism minister Yehia Rashed attended a conference Monday on the sidelines of the World Trade Market.

Rashed encouraged the audience to visit Egypt by assuring that the country is enhancing safety measures at its airports and tourist destinations.

The campaign was launched last month by Egypt's tourism ministry in an attempt to boost the country's struggling tourism sector.

Egypt's tourism industry, a cornerstone of the country's now-ailing economy and a major source of hard currency, which is now in shortage, has been struggling to rebound since the 2011 uprising ushered in years of political and security unrest.

The government has repeatedly argued that reviving the tourism sector and attracting foreign investments through recent economic reforms, including free floating the Egyptian pound against the dollar, would solve Egypt's economic crisis.

A campaign video circulating online shows young Egyptians driving beach buggies in sandy deserts, diving into crystal clear lagoons and enjoying a boat ride on the River Nile.

The campaign's billboards are now being displayed in Russia, China, Japan and several European cities.

"It is still too early to see any results [from the campaign]," says Mohamed Mahmoud, a tour guide at the Egyptian Museum.

"[Tourism] has gotten a bit better over the past two years, but we still don’t get tourist groups, only individuals who happen to be here on business."

"We used to get over-day Russian groups coming from Sharm El-Sheikh on a one-day visit to the museum in Cairo, but this has also stopped," said Mahmoud.

A deadly Russian plane crash in Sinai last October prompted the United Kingdom, Germany and Russia to suspend their flights to Sharm El-Sheikh over security concerns.

Russia, which sends the highest number of tourists to Egypt, suspended flights to the entire country, not only Sinai, and has since sent several delegations of security experts to inspect Egyptian airport safety.

"It is starting to rain softly," said Amr Mostafa of the Travel Yalla booking app, using an expression referring to foreign tourists making a slow comeback.

Through a deal with the tourism ministry, the UK and Germany resumed charter flights to Egypt in mid-October; Germany to Sharm El-Sheikh and the UK to Luxor.

Local tourism

Egyptians have also been choosing to travel internally instead of abroad due to the high price of the dollar and the government's restrictions on credit cards.

"Egyptian couples have started travelling to Gouna, Sharm El-Sheikh or Luxor and Aswan instead of Thailand and Bali," two previously popular destinations for newlywed middle class Egyptians.

However, Mostafa believes internal tourism will retreat due to the free floating of the Egyptian pound, which is likely to cause price hikes. On the other hand, he says this could have the opposite effect on tourism from abroad, with the lower value of the pound attracting foreigners looking for cheap vacations.

Egypt floated the local currency last week, and the official exchange rate of the greenback has since reached an average of EGP 17.5.

Although tourism experts view efforts by the tourism ministry as a positive step, some believe Egypt's image as an unstable country remains a hurdle.

"Direct advertising [for Egypt as a touristic destination] is good, but it is not enough," says former head of the Tourism Chambers Union Elhami El-Zayat. "Egypt's image as a politically stable country is what needs to be projected."

Egypt has been struggling with political unrest, security problems and Islamist militant attacks against security forces in recent years.

The number of tourists visiting Egypt declined by 45 percent in August 2016 compared to the same month last year, according to the latest figures announced by the state's official statistics body CAPMAS.

The country’s revenues from tourism dropped by 48.9 percent to $3.8 billion in 2015/16 from $7.4 billion in 2014/15, according to the Central Bank of Egypt. 

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