'Tenfold effort' needed to save Egypt's tourisim

'Tenfold effort' needed to save Egypt's tourisim
5 min read
23 May, 2016
Major efforts are needed to bring tourists back to Egypt, the country's Tourism Minister Yehia Rashed said on Sunday, though he sought to downplay the latest disaster.
Major efforts are now required to revive Egypt's tourism industry [AFP]
The tragic fate of EgyptAir flight MS804 comes as another crushing blow to Egypt's dwindling tourism revenue.

The country over the past 12-months has seen three aviation incidents, a number of bomb attacks in Cairo, and an airstrike that mistakenly killed a tourist convoy.

It has also seen the horrific mutilation and murder of an Italian student, in addition to disappearances and mass-arrests across the country.

Therefore, how will Egypt's already struggling tourism industry cope with its latest tragedy?

Amid a chorus of concerns over Egypt's once-mighty but now shrinking tourism sector, Tourism Minister Yehia Rashed said major efforts are now required to revive the industry.

"The efforts that we need to put are maybe 10 times what we planned to put in place," Rashed said on Sunday in an interview with Reuters.

"We need to focus on our ability to drive business back to Egypt to change the image of Egypt," he added.

But with no real prospect of change in the structural factors that led to this phase of major instability and turmoil, the likelihood of tourists returning to the heady-heights of the 2000's seems remote.

Egyptian officials say it is still too early to know what caused the EgyptAir plane to plunge into the Mediterranean on Thursday with 66 people on board.

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But Rashed, who assumed office just two months ago, sought to downplay potential impact on Egypt.

"What we need to understand is this is an incident that could have taken place anywhere. Aviation incidents happen, unfortunately," Rashed said.

The incident is not alone and will undoubtedly add to the cumulative effect of a disastrous 12-month period for visitors to Egypt.

September 2015 saw the mistaken bombing of a convoy of Mexican tourists in Egypt's western desert after being misidentified as militants by the country's air force.

October 2015 saw the downing of a Russian passenger plane minutes after it departed from an Egyptian Red Sea resort in October - an attack claimed by Islamic State [IS] militant group and which led to the deaths of all 224 people on board.

While not a tourist, the disappearance and gruesome murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in January 2016 - widely blamed on Egypt's security forces - caught much media attention and led to a considerable outcry world-wide.

Egypt's national carrier made headlines in March of this year when a man wearing a fake suicide belt hijacked a plane and diverted it to Cyprus.

People want to travel more with EgyptAir because they know us. I mean, it's one of the first airlines in the world you know so it does have a history of safety, it does have a history of hospitality
- Tourism minister Yehia Rashed

No one was harmed and the man surrendered to police after allowing hostages to take selfies with him.

Tourism minister Rashed claimed that the incidents involving EgyptAir are not linked and the airline's management of the crisis has boosted passanger confidence.

"People want to travel more with EgyptAir because they know us. I mean, it's one of the first airlines in the world you know so it does have a history of safety, it does have a history of hospitality," he said.

But the continuous series of incidents affecting tourists in Egypt, against a backdrop of increasing violence and instability, can only further shake visitor confidence.

Egypt's tourism revenues slumped 15 percent in 2015 [AFP]

The 2011 popular uprising that unseated strongman Hosni Mubarak became a world-wide media sensation, but the military coup against his successor Mohammed Morsi in 2013 and the bloody crackdown against his supporters ushered in a new period of violence and instability.

Mass-arrests and forced disappearances have been widely condemned by international human rights organisation, and stories of forced confessions and torture in Egypt's notorious jails permeate global media.

'Recovery postponed'

"All this is adding to the negative sentiment towards Egypt's tourism sector," said Hany Farahat, senior economist at CI Capital in Cairo.

"And definitely, it postpones any potential for recovery in 2016 as far as tourism revenues are concerned," he said.

Tourism revenues slumped 15 percent in 2015 and Egypt's foreign currency reserves are under intense pressure, falling to $17 billion in April from more than $36 billion in 2010.

The recent incidents have dashed hopes of a recovery in the sector, which had seen signs of improvement.

The recent incidents have dashed hopes of a recovery in the sector, which had seen signs of improvement.

"Arrivals from key markets plummeted in 2011 and started gradually to recover until 2015. But those never achieved the performance from prior to the events," said Kinda Chebib, senior analyst at Euromonitor International.

Tourism minister Rashed says incidents involving EgyptAir are not linked and the airline's crises management has boosted confidence in the carrier [Getty]

"We believe that the recent events will slow down the ambitions of the local government to achieve the target of 20 million foreign tourist arrivals by 2020," she said.

The repercussions will most sorely be felt by Egyptians most reliant on the tourist sector.

By the late 2000's, one in 10 working Egyptians were employed by the tourist industry that serviced almost 15 million tourists a year.

By 2013 the numbers had fallen to less than 10 million, and revenues from tourism last year were less than half of what they were six years ago.

While the bereaved families of the latest air tragedy still await further news as to the cause of the disaster, Egyptian authorities will know that this is yet another hammer-blow in President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's much vaunted promise of stability and economic recovery.

"This incident might contribute to discrediting the legitimacy of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's rule, because he had promised to fight terrorism and restore security, and terrorism is still affecting the Egyptian economy and threatening Egyptian people's income," said Mustapha Kamel, a political science professor at Cairo University.

Agencies contributed to this report.