In an article written for the magazine The Egyptian Portfolio, Minister of Tourism Rania Al-Mashat reviews the reforms undertaken in the country’s tourism sector that have been executed in parallel with the country’s monetary and fiscal reforms under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Al-Mashat underscores the importance of tourism for the economy, accounting for 15 per cent of GDP and boosting several other sectors.
Tourism helps to generate two million employment opportunities in the sector itself, in addition to 1.9 million in related sectors. The total is four million jobs, representing approximately 12.6 per cent of the labour force.
In her article, Al-Mashat characterises previous policies implemented in Egypt’s tourism sector as having been “reactive” rather than pre-emptive. As a result, in January 2018 the ministry formulated a programme for the structural reform of the sector, in cooperation with different government agencies as well as the private sector. The latter accounts for 98 per cent of tourism operations in Egypt.
The main objective has been to raise the competitiveness of Egypt’s tourism and to create the conditions by which “at least one member of every Egyptian family is employed in tourism or one of its affiliated activities.”
Al-Mashat adds that other objectives include improving gender equality, generating sustainable energy, and supporting manufacturing, creativity and responsible consumption. All of these are in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
She characterises the ongoing structural reforms of Egypt’s tourism sector as also comprising reforms to tourism’s institutional and legislative structures, modernising marketing mechanisms, upgrading infrastructure and investment, and ensuring that Egyptian tourism operates in conformity with global trends.
The institutional reforms aim to raise the efficiency of personnel working in the tourism sector and are being implemented through technical, professional and institutional training.
The ministry has implemented training programmes for hotel employees, department heads and managers. These have covered diverse areas spanning health, food safety, the culinary arts, food and beverages, first aid, internal supervision and front desks.
Programmes have also been implemented with diving and snorkeling instructors, as well as with the managers of diving centres and yacht and safari crews. The training has comprised the raising of environmental awareness and providing diving staff with information on dealing with sharks.
The policies are also aimed at increasing the price competitiveness of Egypt’s aviation sector and tourist destinations in relation to comparable destinations elsewhere.
Another important initiative highlighted by Al-Mashat is the accommodation of the educational system to the requirements of tourism. Educational curricula have been reviewed so as to include tourism ethics and principles related to the treatment of tourists that conform to the World Tourism Organisation’s Global Code of Ethics.
The ministry has also reviewed the educational syllabuses offered by hotel and tourism faculties in cooperation with the Egyptian Federation of Tourism Chambers.
It is also collaborating in exchanging expertise in the field of sustainable tourism development with the World Tourism Organisation, the International Council for Tourism and Travel, the International Finance Corporation, the World Economic Forum (WEF), and the World Trade Organisation.
As part of legislative reforms of the tourism sector, the ministry has undertaken procedures to elect the boards of the chambers and federations of tourism in Egypt. Al-Mashat stressed the importance of this in her article as a preliminary step to legislative reforms governing the chambers of tourism.
In August 2018, new regulations were issued governing the Egyptian Federation of Tourism and its Chambers.
The ministry is also reviewing the laws regulating the tourism sector and preparing the needed legislation. This is being done in line with international best practices on tourism. The technical assistance of both the World Tourism Organisation and the World Trade Organisation has been solicited.
The promotion of Egypt’s tourism sector has been a significant part of the ongoing reforms, with the ministry contracting various companies to promote Egypt’s tourism. These include Beautiful Destinations, the US network CNN, the Chinese company Ctrip, the US Discovery channel and Isobar.
The ministry also hosted a one-week visit to Egypt for well-known travel bloggers and influencers from various countries, with social-media outreach of millions of followers.
Egypt’s participation in international tourism exhibitions has been upgraded through state-of-the-art technologies, including interactive and virtual displays and the use of holograms projecting Egypt’s image as a contemporary and dynamic country. Positive news about the country has also been provided with a view to impacting various potential markets.
The reforms of Egypt’s tourism sector have also extended to infrastructure and investment. New hospitality criteria have been announced for the first time since 2006, upgrading these criteria in collaboration with the World Tourism Organisation.
Al-Mashat says in her article that the efforts have included raising the quality of tourist establishments, specifically hotels, to make them more competitive. Eco-lodges, apartment hotels, and boutique hotels have also been promoted and traditional hotels, resorts, and heritage hotels and camps upgraded. The latter have been regulated to comply with criteria for safe safari travel.
Environmental and green criteria have been incorporated to promote the use of clean and renewable energy and to preserve the environment and protect natural and heritage-related habitats. Green hotels are being expanded to reach 10 per cent of total hotel accommodation in Egypt.
Plans are also underway to make the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh a green city with funding from the Global Environment Facility. The plans will be implemented with the help of the UN Development Programme from 2021 to 2026.
Included in the green initiative are Ras Mohamed in Sinai and Wadi Al-Hitan (the Valley of the Whales) in Fayoum in collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Compliance with environmental protection regulations are one criterion used in hotel classification.
The empowerment of women and gender equality are also principles implemented in the tourism sector in collaboration with Egypt’s National Council for Women and the World Economic Forum (WEF).
In her article, Al-Mashat cites figures demonstrating that the competitiveness of Egyptian tourism has improved. The World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index for 2019 placed Egypt in fourth rank globally, up from ninth earlier, and placed it first among the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Egypt also progressed from 60th to fifth rank in the WEF’s index of touristic marketing and promotion strategies. The WEF ranked Egypt first in the MENA region in terms of safety, security, infrastructure, ports and natural resources.
The Ministry of Tourism received a triple A rating for its promotion of the trademark of Egypt and its tourist destinations.
Al-Mashat writes that the structural reform of Egyptian tourism has progressed rapidly in compliance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “As such, it has become a model that can be emulated in other sectors of the economy,” she concludes.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.