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Egypt's tourism: Travelling out of the box

Egypt is making innovative moves to promote tourism, including by partnering with CNN and co-producing an Italian documentary series on its archaeological treasures

Safeya Mounir , Thursday 16 May 2019
Abu Simbel Temple
Abu Simbel Temple

Egypt is making new efforts to promote tourism on the international stage by partnering with the US channel CNN to launch a global tourism campaign and making a series of documentaries on Egypt’s archaeological wonders with an Italian media group, according to announcements by the Ministry of Tourism.

The CNN campaign will kick off on 22 May with innovative material on contemporary Egypt to attract a global audience on television networks and digital platforms.

To increase engagement with audiences, advertising will be placed adjacent to relevant content such as CNN Travel on digital platforms, using first-party data to reach specific segments and engage with audiences showing interest in editorial content about Egypt, said Rania Al-Mashat, the minister of tourism.

The campaign targets tourists from the European, North American, Asian, African and Middle Eastern markets. The CNN campaign would tap into the high interest in travel amongst CNN audiences, 66 per cent of whom are personally interested in travel, with 50 per cent travelling internationally each year, Al-Mashat said.

Earlier this week, she also announced that Italy’s biggest commercial broadcaster MediaSet would be launching a new season of documentaries on the secrets of ancient Egypt after the success of a previous season.

The Italian series Freedom Oltre Il Confine (Freedom Beyond Borders) and its presenter Roberto Giacobbo would broadcast documentaries on the wonders of ancient Egyptian civilisation, Al-Mashat said.

The series, entitled “Exclusive Permits”, will be aired on Italian television. The 13 episodes — the first season contained 12 — were shot at archaeological sites unfamiliar to tourists, such as the Osirion, an ancient Egyptian temple located behind the Seti I Temple in Abydos, and the Djoser Step Pyramid where a statuette of Osiris was recently discovered.

Parts of the series were shot inside tombs unearthed in Luxor’s Draa Abul-Naga Necropolis, as well as in the tomb of Tutankhamun’s wet nurse in Saqqara and that of the scribe who drafted the Egypt-Hittite peace treaty between Ramses II and Hittite ruler Hattusilis III.

The programme contains ancient Egyptian scenes that will be aired exclusively on Italian television.

The first season of the series was broadcast between 28 December 2018 and 14 February, with each episode drawing between 1.5 and five million viewers, Rai, the national public broadcasting company of Italy, said.

“Promoting Egypt on CNN and Italian television is an excellent step forward,” said Hossam Al-Shaer, chairman of the Egyptian Chamber of Tourism Companies. “We are now awaiting the launch of a wide-ranging campaign in countries sending tourists to Egypt, such as Germany and the UK.”

In her announcement of the partnership with CNN, Al-Mashat said that “innovation lies at the heart of the partnership through the use of CNN’s sophisticated data capabilities and insight to reach these audiences.

CNN will leverage its unique scale via TV networks as well as precision-targeting across digital and social media to optimise a campaign showing the beauty of Egypt and its culture and people.”

However, one tourism marketing expert, who preferred to withhold his name, viewed the CNN campaign differently. He said the global network would not receive attention from audiences, adding that German, Spanish and Italian viewers preferred to watch their local television channels.

He said that CNN viewers in Europe were limited to English-speaking tourists and holidaymakers who wished to follow world news.

The campaign seeks to create a positive image of Egypt through story-telling that focuses on tourist destinations, said Cathy Ibal, vice president of CNN International Commercial, adding that the campaign was expected to be viewed by more than 10 million tourists.

For Mohamed Hassanein, a member of the Egyptian Chamber of Tourism Companies whose company works on tourism from Spain, promoting Egypt abroad will make it easier for private tourism businesses to attract holidaymakers.

In 2018, approximately 11.3 million tourists visited Egypt, spending almost 122 million nights in the country.

The European market was the largest exporter of tourists last year, with seven million vacationers. The Arab market came second with three million tourists. Asia was third with around 700,000 tourists, and the Americas fourth with approximately 500,000.

The promotion campaign has three aspects: branding by destination, based on promoting each tourist destination separately, including Aswan, Luxor, Sharm El-Sheikh and Marsa Alam; a people-to-people scheme; and marketing the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), which is slated to open in 2020.

The museum inauguration comes amid other events Egypt is preparing for, such as the Africa Cup of Nations taking place next month. The partnership with CNN could not have happened at a better time, with the world’s eyes turning to Egypt for the events.

Hassanein said that promoting Egypt’s cultural tourism, which focuses on museums and archaeological sites, will impact positively on the overall flow of travellers to Egypt.

Al-Mashat said the first documentary series aired in Italy augured well for the success of the second. She said season two had been shot in Aswan, Abu Simbel, Sohag, Luxor and Giza in April. Modern promotion mechanisms depending on storytelling, location and people had responded to tourists’ desires for new experiences.

“The new promotion strategy will have a positive impression on the targeted audience,” said Magdi Sadek, a member of the Egyptian Chamber of Tourism Companies whose company attracts tourists from Italy.

Italian tourists are primarily interested in Egypt’s beaches and cultural destinations, said Sadek, who confirmed that the number of Italian tourists visiting Egypt in 2018 had increased by 16 per cent on the year before.

The first three months of 2019 had seen a 40 per cent rise in Italian tourists on the same period in 2018, with the influx concentrated in Marsa Alam and Sharm El-Sheikh.

Presenter Giacobbo said the first season of the series on the secrets of ancient Egypt had been a big hit, particularly the parts shot in the Grand Egyptian Museum, which had garnered two million viewers.

Season one documented recent archaeological discoveries in Egypt, such as Miho’s tomb in the Saqqara Necropolis and the restoration of Khufu’s second solar boar. A special episode on the journey of the Holy Family in Egypt was aired at Christmas.

Other episodes included one on the secrets of the Pyramids of Giza, in which famed Egyptologist and former minister of antiquities Zahi Hawass was hosted. Another was on the Battle of Kadesh, which took place before the signing of the first peace treaty in human history between Ramses II and the Hittite emperor.

The final episode of the first season was aired on Valentine’s Day. It recounted the story of queen Nefertari, who was Ramses II’s favourite wife and to whom he dedicated a temple in Abu Simbel and a private cemetery.

The success of the series had led the Italian Focus channel to broadcast it again.

After developing tourist areas such as in Aswan and linking Hurghada and Luxor, Hassanein said Egypt should hold sound and light shows on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor.

He said it was pivotal to embark on promotion campaigns in traditional markets such as Germany and the UK and new markets such as China and India, while addressing each market according to its targeted travellers, whether they were interested in beaches, cultural or religious tourism.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Travelling out of the box

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