Fair hits a hopeful note

It has been a bleak year for the tourism industry. But although the events of 9-11 may still be fresh in the minds of many, the tourism industry is now making headway in its battle against flagging figures. BABU KALYANPUR reports on MTF 2002.

The travel and tourism industry struck a note of optimism at the Mediterranean Travel Fair (MTF) 2002 in Cairo, as it battled to recover from the events of September 11, and the economic slowdown that followed.

Many countries and tour operators still felt the impact of 9-11, with tourism figures only improving marginally. But the path to recovery had already started for many countries, and the time for consolidation had come.

With this in mind, the tourism industry went all out in promoting itself at the MTF and the results were positive for most participants.

Middle Eastern participants stressed the safety factor, as fears of US attacks on Iraq sparked concern.

The MTF itself was bigger - with more space, 6.8 per cent increase over last year, and 119 stand-holders, a 9.2 per cent rise over last year.

"The international profile of the exhibition has grown this year," said Tom Nutley, managing director of Reed Exhibitions, organisers of the event.

"There were 31 countries in attendance. New to the show were Algeria, Britain, Korea, Nepal, Oman, Paraguay, Romania and South Africa," Nutley said.

Highlighting the fact that Egypt has much to offer as a tourism destination, Nutley said tourism was set to grow at a rate of 10 per cent over the next 25 years.

Egypt has had a promising year so far and is well on the road to recovery after 9-11, says Egypt Tourism Minister Dr Mamdouh El Beltagui.

"We were very badly hit by the events of September. However, we are pro-active in management and our recovery efforts have been good," El Beltagui said.

"We had a 40 per cent fall in tourists from the US this year. This has been a dramatic drop.

"Media coverage of terrorism in the US has been strong. But the portrayal of Muslim terrorism has been wrong. Nobody has the right to link terrorism to religion.

"We want to tell Americans that Egypt is peaceful and co-existence and tolerance is the culture of Egypt."

Egypt will offer more destinations for tourists, opening up new areas for the satisfaction of the visitor, the minister said.

China is the new market on which Egypt is focusing and an office has been opened in Shanghai.

Brochures have also been produced in Chinese and guides are receiving training in the language, he added. Japan and Korea have also been targeted.

"Our promotional campaign is well under way. Egypt is a friendly country. We are also far way from Iraq and the problem there does not affect tourism here," he said.

Morocco has launched a vigorous campaign to boost tourism and is targeting 10 million tourists by 2010.

"We are away from all the problem areas in the Middle East," says Alla El Ayachi, secretary general, Morocco National Tourism Office.

"We have launched advertising campaigns on TV and print media to present out image.

"We had an eight per cent fall in tourists up to July this year. There were 15 per cent less Germans and five per cent decrease in French tourists.

"We are also targeting Arabs in a big way in our campaign.

"We have new plans in place and we are also developing ecology tourism. We have mountains and rural delights."

Kuwait has used the MTF to display its emerging tourism plans.

"Kuwait is participating in expos to reveal its future plans," says Mohammed Al Najia, executive director, Kuwait Tourism Services.

"The government is making major efforts to promote tourism and a study has been launched in this regard."

India has had a better response this year than last, says Syed Iqbal, assistant director, West Asia, Government of India Tourist Office, Dubai.

"The number of Arab tourists fell 1.9 per cent last year. Overall, tourism fell 13 per cent in 2001. But we are witnessing an upward trend this year," he said.

"We are promoting India as a safe destination. The problem in Kashmir is too far to affect visitors," he added.

India is also aggressively promoting Kerala, Goa and Rajasthan states, said Yogesh Jain, director, India Tourism.

The India state of Chattisgarh also participated, offering nature to draw visitors.

Tourism in Turkey rose 20 per cent from last year despite 9-11.

"We were not affected by the events in the US last year. Our tourism actually increased because we remained a safe destination," says Emim Temel, an official from the Turkish Tourism Ministry.

"Tourists from GCC prefer Turkey as a destination which helps our market. We are also targeting China soon," he said.

The UAE and Bahrain also received good responses at the MTF.

Danat Dubai cruises received favourable inquires in Cairo. It was the first time the company was promoting outside Dubai.

"We got good response from the MTF. We offer high quality cruises where safety is of prime importance," says Salah El Khayat, executive director, Danat Dubai.

The company is also planning to introduce a dhow and power boats in the future, he said.

The British Tourist Authority used the event as a forum to follow up on contacts and come up with new products in the future.

The importance of using the MTF to promote tourism in the current scenario was underlined with countries such as Paraguay, Korea and Romania taking part.

Though Paraguay received few visitors from the Mediterranean area, it was keen to get exposure and showcase its natural beauty.

The determination to bring tourism back to what it was before 9-11 was the driving force for the participants.

With the upswing already begun, participants predict good times are round the corner.