Egypt’s tourism sector has long been one of the key pillars of the country’s economy, but tourist arrivals have slowed sharply over the past two years following the popular uprisings that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
Speaking at the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference in Dubai, Egypt’s tourism minister Hisham Zaazou said his biggest challenge is to try to combat what he believes has been an unfair campaign by the media to paint Egypt as an unsafe destination.
“It was not really fair of the media [to focus] on one square kilometre, Tarir Square, [because] it is not really a reflection of the one million kilometres of Egypt. While maybe it is reality that there were some demonstrations there and some violence, it is also reality that the rest of Egypt is safe, secure and open for business,” he explained.
Zaazou said that despite some earlier news reports to the contrary, the Egyptian government is fully behind the tourism sector because it recognises its importance to the country’s economy. He noted that tourism accounts for for 11.3% of the Egypt’s GDP and provides job opportunities for 12.6% of the country’s total workforce.
“At first I was a bit apprehensive that the new government would not back tourism enough, but every time the president of Egypt travels, he calls me to join him. In his latest speech, he mentioned that tourism is important to us, so if the political leader of the country is saying that, it means that investment [in tourism] should follow,” he said.
So far this year Egypt’s tourism sector is showing signs of a rebound, as about three million visitors travelled to the country in the first quarter of 2013, which is about 14.6% higher compared the same period last year. Egypt is aiming to increase visitor numbers by 20% this year, and has set ambitious long-term targets of reaching 30 million tourists and revenues of $25bn by 2022.
Along with offering deals to lure Arab families to Egypt, the ministry is launching a series of ‘out-of-the-box’ measures to attract tourists from all over the world, Zaazou said. These include placing cameras at key tourism sites across Egypt that will provide online video feeds showing the peaceful environment that exists in these areas.
Stating that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, Zaazou said the ministry will display the live feeds from these cameras in metro stations and other densely populated areas in cities in Europe and the US.
“Egypt will always be in the centre of focus for tourism in the world, whether me or you or anyone likes it or not. Egypt still has the Pyramids, it still has the Nile, it has fantastic beaches, and very welcoming people,” he said.