Egypt: a tourist industry on the verge of collapse

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EGYPT (eTN) – It all started on August 16, 2013 when the European governments imposed travel advice to their citizens with the aim of protecting them from the persisting political turbulence which cau

EGYPT (eTN) – It all started on August 16, 2013 when the European governments imposed travel advice to their citizens with the aim of protecting them from the persisting political turbulence which caused a few hundred victims in Egypt.

Special air transport was organized to bring back home those tourists who were enjoying their holidays until that fateful date. Taken by panic, on the eve of departure from Italy to Egypt, tourists rushed to cancel their trips and request refunds. Tour operators and travel agents, bound to lose their shirts, went through bloody August headaches. The hurricane nourished by the fierce media left behind many victims: the travel organizers swimming into debts, and tourists still waiting for a legal decision on their refunds.

This isn’t going to amount to just peanuts if the damage is met with a sudden drop of one nation’s economy that relies on tourism for the survival of thousands of workers employed in the field.

“Four million Egyptians are employed in the tourism sector, millions of families live off of this, the bread to feed their children is at risk,” said Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, Hisham Zaazou, addressing around 30 Italian journalists hosted in Sharm El Sheikh, (to witness and report that it is a safe place for tourists) as he struggles to convince the Italian and European governments to reconsider their travel advice.

“We are appalled at the position of the European governments that do not recommend travel to Egypt,” the Minister said. “We are moving full steam ahead towards democracy. Riots in Cairo are in decline; we are a people who love peace. The decision of the EU to limit the financial aid only to the economic and social sectors does not help foreign visitors to come to us. We are confident that the Italians are ready to come back to us; here they have always been very loved and respected.”

The absence of Italians, historically the largest tourist population in Sharm El Sheikh and other major Egyptian tourist places such as Aswan, Hurgada, Marsa Alam, and more, whose presence recorded over one million per year, is strongly felt. The Russian tourists that are taking over are not sufficient to fill the thousands of room beds available in the country. The damage hits also the economic activity induced by tourism.

General Khaled Foud, Governor of North Sinai and head of security in Sharm el Sheikh, testified that a world congress of 1,500 people just concluded in Sharm without any problem, capitalizing on the wonderful climate and the unique relationship between the content and cost of Red Sea products.

“We wanted to let you see for yourself that outside the boundaries of Cairo City, all is peaceful in Egypt,” said the Minister to the journalists. “The increasingly rare episodes of demonstrations in the capital are due to problems that do not involve foreign and domestic tourism in the rest of the country.”

Minister Zaazou also explained with some embarrassment that he attempted to propose to the Italian Foreign Ministry to send a delegation of control over security, but the Italian ambassador in Cairo was said “to be absent” – Zaazou then turned to the French embassy, very helpful and willing to convey his message to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We look forward to host soon an Italian delegation,” said Minister Zaazou.

Incentives and roadshows

Very pragmatic, also due to the long association with the emergency, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism unveiled the new recovery plan on European markets. To emerge from the worst crisis ever, it shall launch an international communication plan which includes print and social campaigns, and participation at all the international travel trade fairs. The plan also includes incentives for air charters and economic support to foreign partners, with the Egyptian government participating in the costs for the revival of the destination and reinforcement of an economic endowment to the Egyptian tourism offices in the world for local communication campaigns.

In a 12-day European roadshow, Minister Zaazou shall visit the potential major European market basins with travel to Egypt, including travel agents and tour operators.

The promotional plan also covers the Gulf countries to stimulate their Egyptian tourism share growth to 20%. European contribution amounts to 80%.

Sharm El Sheikh a peaceful and picturesque holiday destination

In Sharm el Shehik, it is a quiet situation. Egyptian families with children, and tourists at night, thronged the streets of Soho Square on a Friday holiday, as well as in the warm evenings of working weekdays.

The five-star Hotel Savoy, venue of the Minister’s conference, is within a large ultra-modern shopping and amusement compound about two miles long, divided by a large main pedestrian road a few miles’ distance from the old Sharm el Shehik city. An open air entertaining show area, as well as large idling areas for drinks and shish smoking, ice rinks, cityrama, ice cream parlors, a choice of restaurants, and more, provide for a quiet and pleasant evening. Beach life and boat excursions to the snorkeling pristine waters provide for warm sunny day activities.

On the occasion of a hosted lunch for the media at the Coral Beach hotel, the largest property in the area, an Italian CEO, Mr. Ernesto Briatone, considered the founder of tourism in Sharm el Shehik, held a video press conference from his residence in Switzerland. On the travel advice, Briatone said that “it has been a theft to Egypt and to the tour operators.”

Joining the group of the Italian media were Mrs. Eleonora Brigliadori, Italian actress; Mr. Essam Azab, Director of Egyptair Italy and sponsor of the media trip; and Mr. Abd El Gabbar, Manager of the Egypt Tourist Office in Italy.

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Editor in chief for eTurboNew is Linda Hohnholz. She is based in the eTN HQ in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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