Egypt unveils initiatives to revive tourism sector

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Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism is taking steps to promote the tourism sector both domestically and internationally, said Mahmoud Shukri of the ministry’s tourism promotion office.

The ministry has partnered with Ministry of Civil Aviation affiliates such as Egypt Air, Egypt Express and Smart Air to offer special discounts to stimulate domestic tourism, he said.

The number of tourists traveling to Egypt has dropped dramatically this year, with just one million tourists visiting the country through the end of August, an 80 percent reduction over the same period last year, according to ministry figures.

Hotel occupancy in Luxor stood at 5 percent during the month of August and at 3 percent in Aswan, while the Red Sea performed relatively better with 35 percent occupancy – 35,000 tourists – and Hurghada received 150,000 visitors.

With the discount, a three-night trip to Hurghada or the Red Sea by air or land will not exceed 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($144), he said.

“Internationally, the ministry is moving to reassure European countries on the security situation in the tourist areas, especially cities in southern Egypt, Hurghada, Aswan and the Red Sea, to persuade them to refrain from warning their citizens against traveling to Egypt,” Shukri said.

European tourists account for 75 percent of Egypt’s tourists, he said.

The ministry has approached African countries, especially Zambia and Zimbabwe, and other countries such as Portugal, Brazil, Argentina and Japan, Shukri said.

Additionally, it has engaged in extensive consultations with the Russian authorities to return tourists rates to their normal levels as the winter season, which is favored by tourists from Russia and its neighbors, approaches. A campaign organized by the Egyptian General Tourist Guides Syndicate kicked off on Thursday at the foot of the pyramids.

At the launch of “The Tour Guide is the Voice of Egypt” campaign, Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou said that “the government alone cannot stimulate tourism”.

It is essential that Egyptians work cooperatively and support initiatives that “move us forward and show the true picture of Egypt”, he said.

“We reiterate to the world that all of our guests are safe and secure, and that the differences in Egypt are an internal issue and no matter how much we disagree, we will eventually find a solution,” he said.

A decline in tourism revenues

“A number of hotels and tourist cities had to close their doors, leading to 35,000 workers being put on them indefinite leave,” said Shaker Abdel Azim, a board member of one of the tourist villages in Sharm el-Sheikh.

The Ministry of Tourism and other ministries have agreed on an urgent plan to boost occupancy in tourist areas by offering discounts to government employees and Egyptian citizens to stimulate domestic tourism, he said.

The decline in tourism revenues has a direct impact on the overall revenues of the state, especially hard currency revenues, Cairo University economics professor Sherif Zahran told Al-Shorfa.

“The figures indicate that tourism sector revenues, before beginning to fall, were able to generate $12.5 billion for the treasury in 2010, when Egypt received 12.7 million tourists and the tourism sector occupied first place among economic sectors in terms of income,” he said.

Zahran said the solution lies in a return to stability, adding that many of the losses associated with the tourism sector are losses from the aviation sector, which saw bookings at Egypt Air fall by more than 40 percent, forcing it to reduce the number of flights to many world capitals to avoid further losses. “The fastest solution while waiting for the situation to calm down would be to attract tourism from Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, since links with them already exist, and the physical proximity, especially in the Red Sea area, would facilitate tourism significantly,” he said.

Egypt’s foreign currency reserves edged up to $18.92 billion at the end of August, from $18.88 billion in the previous month, according to the cash-strapped country’s central bank.

Its forex reserves had jumped by almost $4 billion in July – to the highest level since November 2011 – on the back of aid receipts following the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Mursi. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait pledged a total of about $12 billion in aid to the military-backed interim government, part of which was deposited last month.

Egypt has struggled with its finances since the uprising in 2011 as foreign investments and tourism slowed amid political uncertainty, while it also used its reserves to pay for vital imports and defend its battered local currency.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette.

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