Interview with Hisham Zaazou, Minister of Tourism, Egypt (end 2014)
What would you comment on the general atmosphere in Egypt these days?
I think the situation is much more positive now. We are moving into better times. Things are beginning to calm down in Egypt. This is beginning to reflect in our tourism numbers which is doing better these days. I believe with the election of the new President, the second milestone on our road to progress, there has been a shift in sentiments, both in Egypt and internationally. I think we are now moving confidently and comfortably in a better direction.
We were here in June, September and we are here now in November. We can feel it ourselves. There is a certain change, a move towards the positive. Talking specifically about your sector, tourism, what are the prospects for next year? Could you please tell us about the expectations?
To speak about the future, I must first go back into the past. Last year, 2013, was not a good year for us. We ended the year on a very bad note. We had received only a mere 9.5 million tourists, down from 14.7 million tourists. In terms of revenue, we were down from USD 12.5 billion to USD 5.9 billion, perhaps even a little less than that. We didn’t do very well in the first half of 2014 either. In the second half, starting from July up to now, we are moving very well. In the first 3 months of the fiscal year that started this July, ending in September, figures show that we had a 59% upswing in numbers. We are doing much better in revenues too. The latest figures show that the average spending per person, that went down from USD 85 per night to USD 62 until very recently, has slowly climbed back to about USD 80 per person, per night. We are almost back there. Looking forward to 2015, (I am knocking on wood), if we move the way we are moving, we will be back to normal by the end of the year. In 2016, we foresee a higher level of business for Egypt.
I say Viva Egypt. I think the coming period will see the return of the Egyptian Era.
What are the main priorities of the Ministry of Tourism?
If you picture Egyptian Tourism as a body, it stands on two feet. One foot is the cultural product, Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel. That is our history, our heritage. The other product is the Sun and Sea vacations in the Red Sea area in the southern Sinai, like Sharm el Sheik, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba. I think we will focus on these 2 main products for at least 1 year. Out of these main products come other products. We want to focus on reviving demand back to former levels. We are doing well at the moment, though perhaps better with the Sun and Sea product, than the heritage side. But hopefully, the next few months will see an improvement on the heritage side as well. This is definitely our focus at this stage.
Can you tell us specifically how you are reviving interest in these destinations?
We are using many ways. First off, our moves are tactical rather than strategic. We are producing new promotional films for Egypt tourism. These are not generic tourism promos, but specialized films. They are targeted. We have a new film for the cultural products and another one for the Red Sea area. We are using the internet as a tool, which wasn’t something we did before. We are working in co-operation with Google, Microsoft and others. We are allocating more funds to e-tourism. In addition, we are present at almost all the international tourism trade fairs, actively involved. We also run co-marketing campaigns with our big partners, the top players in the world. Particularly Europe, because Europe is very important to us. Europe forms a big part of our tourism base, due to proximity, 73% of our business comes from Europe. In the short term, we are concentrating on that. The Gulf market is also important. After that, we are going to have more activity involving long haul destinations like China, the US, Latin America and others.
You mentioned Europe as providing 73% of the market. What is the breakdown of the rest?
About another 17 to 19% comes from the Arab market, particularly the Gulf market. The rest comes from the rest of the world, the long haul markets. So 90% of our market is from Europe (east and west, including Russia), plus the Gulf market. The last 10% is made up of long haul tourists, from India, China, Japan, US, Latin America and others.
Are there any big events or exhibitions coming up in the next few months?
We had a very important, milestone trade show in London in early November. I’ll be travelling to the US soon, we have a gathering there, the USTOA (US Tour Operators Association) annual conference. It’s a good platform to discuss plans with our partners there about business from there. At the end of January, there will be the very important, FITUR in Madrid, Spain. This touches on our business in Latin America as well. Then in February we will be meeting in Italy. Then in March is the most important one, the biggest ever travel and tourism trade fair will be in Berlin in March 2015.
We haven’t yet talked about business tourism, MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions). Can you elaborate on this segment?
MICE is very important to us. We have had some good business come out of this sector. However, our prevailing conditions had prevented those interested in conferences and meetings from using Egypt as a destination. Some businesses moved their conferences to other locations, where they felt safer. Recently, MICE is making a comeback in Egypt. There have been some large conferences, including the German tourism alliance’s annual meet, QTA, with 1,200 attendees, was held in Egypt, in Luxor. Luxor is a favorite destination for this. I think it made a good impression on them. I think the MICE business is returning to Egypt.
What is your personal vision for the country? Where would you like to see the tourism sector by December 2015?
I would like us to once again reach the numbers of our good years. In 2010 we had nearly 15 million tourists, about 14.7 million. We had revenues of about USD 12.5 billion in that year. I have a feeling that if we keep the momentum we have now, we will be almost there by the end of 2015.
What are some of the initiatives of the Tourism ministry to counter the negative image of Egypt in the last few years?
We have a number of initiatives. They work as a bundle to effect the changes we need. Public Relations is playing an important role in trying to bring our tourism targets back to 2010 levels. We have signed up with a large firm to work on 5 source markets out of Europe. We will add a focused approach to the US market very soon. Improving the image is one of our important goals. We are also trying to attract the film industries to come and use Egypt as a location. It is very good advertising and publicity for Egypt in those markets. We had a big celebrity, Tom Hanks shoot his movie, Lost Summer in Hurghada in Egypt. We would like to see more such milestones. Additionally, we are creating a calendar of events, tourism sports events, tourism cultural events etc. The opera Aida will be performed in Egypt by celebrity singers in 2015.
Is there anything else you would like to say about Egypt?
I say Viva Egypt. I think the coming period will see the return of the Egyptian Era. We are moving in a better direction altogether, as a country. We are re-building our country. We have mega projects in the country, including the revival of tourism. All of us in Egypt are very hopeful of better days to come.
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