‘Egypt is good value for money’

Despite the attacks at Taba and Sharm El Sheikh over the last 18 months, Egypt closed out 2005 better than ever
El-Maghraby: the Arab travel mentality has changed

EGYPT’S tourist arrivals in 2005 reached 8.6 million, according to the tourism ministry, up from 8.1 million in the previous year – a six per cent increase despite a string of deadly attacks over the past 18 months.

The country hopes to double this number to 16 million by 2014, by opening up new tourism destinations, introducing new tourism products and upgrading tourism facilities and services.
SHAFQUAT ALI caught up with the chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Authority, Ahmed El-Maghraby, to find out more:

So the tourists are back in Sharm?
Yes. Some, like the Italians have actually not returned, but that’s because they’re not going anywhere. The outbound market in Italy has gone down by 20 per cent. After the incident took place in July, from August to October, tourists from the UK and Scandinavia were up incredibly. The American market, which you think are the first to get scared, that was up 12 per cent to Egypt last year. So, different markets react differently and for different reasons.

You’re also helped by the fact that low-cost carriers like Air Arabia are now flying into Sharm?
Yes, this has helped out Arab business which is very important. We talk about this with great pride because we’ve been sowing the seeds in that region for a few years now. The younger generation of Arab travellers are beginning to turn to resort areas, its not just city life and city breaks, now they are trying to enjoy the sun and sand, the nightlife… it’s changing.
And it’s not only Air Arabia, we have regular carriers from the other Arab countries flying into Sharm too. So we are very pleased with that, because not only does it reflect a new trend and travel pattern of the Arab travellers, but also a change in the mentality.

What are you doing to boost tourism?
We are always aligning ourselves with tour operators in the major source markets, we will always be dependent on them to bring the bulk of the tourists to this region. We are also increasing and intensifying our media and advertising campaign in the source market, and of course we support very strongly any airline, charter or regular, that flies into Egypt.

What are the main concerns you are looking at now? Security would be one reason, is that part of your advertising?
Not really, but we are constantly improving or enhancing our safety and security measures. This is an ongoing process with every unfortunate incident that takes place in Egypt or in any other country. We are the very first to learn and to teach how we can defend ourselves against terrorism and at the same time, upgrading the workforce in tourism. It’s a very competitive market and we have very clear status of upgrading training, improving the quality of our staff and the standards of operation.
Nevertheless, I think we have succeeded in establishing ourselves as a very good value for money destination, proven by the simple fact that the number of room nights spent by tourists in Egypt in percentage terms is higher than the percentage increase in the number of tourists coming into the country. That means we are getting more tourists, and they are spending even more time in Egypt and that in the textbook of tourism means value for money.

What is your strategy to market Egypt as a destination?
I like to say that we don’t market aggressively; we market in a very friendly way. We have 17 tourist promotion offices around the world but in the Middle East we have none because the structure of the trade is very different here. The vast majority of tourists from Arab countries coming into Egypt are making their own travel arrangements, so what we do is we have road shows for those markets, with high participation from local tour operators and hoteliers. So our main thrust for the Arab market is the media campaign.

Situations like the tsunami helped tourism in the region… both Egypt and Lebanon were gainers, for example?
I don’t like to think it that way, because we’ve had our share of misfortune. But since the tsunami happened around Christmas, European tour operators had to find an alternative destination or they would go bankrupt. After consulting with the governments of Maldives and Thailand and other destinations, they asked us to accommodate tour operators by diverting some of the business and so we did, with other destinations like Turkey and Cyprus.
I believe competition does exist and it is very foolish to think that people will keep coming to the same destination every time. Tourism is about diversity.