FILE - Tourism is flourishing in Egypt FILE - Tourism is flourishing in Egypt

Bringing Tourists Back: A look at initiatives and policies launched

Mon, Mar. 5, 2018
CAIRO - 5 March 2018: Egypt’s hospitality sector has long been a vital pillar in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and a major contributor to the country’s GDP, with annual revenue ranging from $30 billion to $40 billion, according to the Oxford Business Group (OBG). But the situation drastically changed with the 2011 uprising and subsequent political unrest.

Since 2014, however, the government and private investors started focusing on reviving the tourism through various campaigns and offers; and their efforts have been fructuous.

Between January and September 2017, 5.9 million tourists visited Egypt, with the majority of the came from European countries, 75%, 20% came from Arab countries. The number marks a 55% increase from the same period in 2016, which only saw 3.8 million tourists.

In statements to Reuters, Ehab Ghali, Hilton Worldwide’s deputy head for Egypt and North Africa, pointed out that hotel bookings increased between 20% and 25% during 2017. Hilton Worldwide intends to nearly double the number of its hotels in Egypt within seven to 10 years. Similarly, Elhamy Ramzy, the assistant director of sales and marketing at The Nile-Ritz Carlton, tells us that the hotel had a 72% occupation rate throughout 2017.

Extensive campaigns and policies launched by private and public sectors throughout the past year have led tourism revenues to record a seven-year high of $3.5 billion during the first seven months of 2017, a remarkable 170% increase compared to the same period in 2016. From promoting medical and religious tourism to facilitating international conferences and employing social media and influencers marketing methods, we look back at what has been done in the past months to bring the much-needed tourism industry back on the world map.

Medical tourism: The Hepatitis C Campaign

Promoted by football stars Lionel Messi and Dani Alves, Egypt launched Tour ‘n’ Cure in May 2016 to help the estimated 71 million people suffering from the disease worldwide.

For $8,000 (€5,900), patients can spend a week in Egypt receiving the treatment for the virus and touring the country. The program’s Managing Director Mostafa El Sayed explains that this price includes flights, a five-star accommodation, medical analysis, drugs and three days of tours. Visitors can choose to spend their sightseeing days in Cairo, Luxor or Sharm el-Sheikh. To ensure that the largest possible number of people is treated, a regional treatment hub was also set up in Moldova.

Lionel Messi stars in promotional material for the “World Free of Hepatitus C” campaign

Sherine Helmy, CEO of Pharco, the company manufacturing the lion’s share of the generic drugs used to treat the virus in Egypt, explains that, “last year we covered around 700,000 patients, but we are ready to produce in the millions. Our plan is to cure 37% of patients worldwide by 2030.” This initiative aimed to better Egypt’s image before the international community, increase the flow of tourists to Egypt by reviving medical tourism in the country, and to also provide cheaper, guaranteed medication, all the while ensuring patients maintain a high morale.

Speaking about the benefits of the program, Tim Coleman, documentary filmmaker and photographer, indicates that for him, it was a life-or-death situation. He had already undergone two rounds of treatment without success, and was low on the list to receive the drugs from the National Health Service. The only viable option left was to pay £120,000 ($176,000) for the drugs in the UK. Two years ago, Coleman saw a Tour ‘n’ Cure advertisement in an inflight magazine. He made the phone call as soon as he got toCairo. Today, he is entirely virus free.

“It is truly miraculous, what [Egypt has] managed to do,” he says. “It’s such a success story. The whole thing is something Egyptians can be really proud of.”

The program showcased Egyptian hospitality, medical development and Egypt in the most positive light possible, with millions recognising the movement as one of the best worldwide.

Building a reputation as a MICE (Meeting, Incentive, Conference, and Events) destination: WYF, BPW International and GFF

Launched in 2017 for the first time, the World Youth Forum (WYF) got delegates talking about concerns of youth and the challenges facing them, while also boosting tourism.

The conference brought together 3,000 attendees, represented by 60 delegations. The seven-day gathering witnesses the participation of official youth representatives over 18 years of age, leaders of various youth networks, heads of state, media figures and around 250 young Egyptian expats. It was held under the slogan “We Need to Talk,” sending messages of peace, prosperity, development and the importance of human collaboration to the entire world.

In an interview with Egypt Today, popstar Cheb Khaled said that this forum managed to show the whole world the real image of Egypt, particularly as the forum was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, the city of peace.

The forum has led to a positive upsurge in tourist inflows, particularly younger ones, to Egypt in general, but also the Red Sea in particular. Tourism in Sharm al-Sheikh witnessed a remarkable recovery after the forum, according to the Egyptian Tourism Authority (ETA).

Not only did the youth forum increase tourism, it also did not cost Egypt anything, as a group of sponsors, including banks, hotels and Egypt Air, funded the event.

The Business and Professional Women International (BPW International) conference had a similar effect on Egyptian tourism. Held in Greater Cairo, the forum brought together over a thousand globally influential figures to discuss women’s entrepreneurship and economic development. The conference showcased Egypt’s Great Pyramids, as well as many other locations, where important ceremonies were held under the agenda. Posted on a myriad of social media accounts, the pictures promoted the country and portrayed a safer side of it than the one stereotypically depicted in the media.

The Gouna International Film Festival (GFF) was yet another opportunity to promote tourism by showing another side of Egypt to the world. “The more visibility Egypt enjoys globally, especially when it comes to matters of art and culture, the better its image around the whole world. The world has a prevailing impression of Egypt, and that impression shows Egypt as plagued with terrorism,” Samih Sawiris, the founder of Orascom Developments and the man behind El Gouna, had told Egypt Today after the event. “The world needs to get other messages from Egypt, and news about it should not always be negative. The world needs to know there are positive news.”

Renewing tourism in Egypt: Religious tourism

“The Holy Family came to Egypt, travelling for about three-and-a-half years across the country. What we have done is—and this project is not recent, we started it about two or three years ago— we picked eight locations in four cities and we readied them from the infrastructure perspective to receive the customers, clients and tourists,” Hesham El-Demery, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Board, had told Egypt Today last April.

To promote the tour, in collaboration with Egyptian authorities, Pope Francis visited Egypt later in April of 2017, carried out mass and acknowledged the Holy Family’s journey in Egypt as an official Christian pilgrimage. This announcement puts the Holy Family tour on equal footing to Fatima in Portugal, suggesting that thousands of Christian tourists would visit Egypt.

FILE - Holy Family Trip in Egypt

Marketing campaigns worldwide

Multiple marketing campaigns have launched since 2015, most prominently the “This is Egypt” campaign. Other important campaigns include the roadshows in four Indian cities, sponsoring CNN News reports, the Ramadan campaign and the meetings in Ukraine, Poland and Germany.

Launched on December 19, 2015, “This is Egypt” relied on Egyptians to use the hashtag #thisisegypt to showcase their own country. Departing from traditional destinations that tourists are familiar with, the campaign was able to portray Egyptian kindness, hidden gems and the authentic Egyptian culture. The digital, peer-to-peer advocacy campaign has been supported by the likes of Yanni and Morgan Freeman, among others.

“Egypt has transformed as a nation in the past four years, and unfortunately the world does not always see our country the same way we do…we need to close that perception gap… There is so much the world has yet to discover about our country,” former Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou previously told Egypt Today. “With ‘This is Egypt,’ we will work with citizens motivated by pride and patriotism, as well as with SMEs offering unique experiences, social media influencers, and those who can create interesting and compelling content that will show their local perspective. We want to highlight the authentic local experiences that Egypt’s diverse tourism offering has to offer. We are going to show travellers there is more to Egypt than sun, sand and sea.”

Billboards displaying promotional material from the tourism campaign have been raised in countries worldwide, including the Russia, Japan, the UK and other European countries, attracting thousands of tourists to come to Egypt.

The ‘This is Egypt” promotional campaign, directed by advertising agency J. Walter Thompson (JWT), won a Gold Effie Award in the Travel, Tourism and Transportation category and the Silver Effie Award in the Renaissance category, according to the Effie awards’ website.

Roadshows by Egyptian officials to four Indian cities, namely Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmadabad and Bengaluru, were also a huge success. They were attended by a delegation of Egyptian travel trade companies who interacted with travel trade members in Mumbai. As a result of this trip, according to Demery, Indian tourist arrivals to Egypt increased by about 30% in the first quarter of 2017. He further pointed out that Indian tourist nights increased by 185% in the first quarter of 2017, which saw 148,000 Indian tourists, compared to only 80,000 in the same period in 2016.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism partnered up with CNN to launch a campaign promoting Egypt. Former tourism minister Yehia Rashed pointed out the importance of this step, “[Egypt] considers the partnership with CNN a strong step on our path towards promoting tourism in international markets, especially through reputable media institutions like CNN. This partnership helps us fulfil part of an international promotion strategy through a strong outlet for the target audience.”

The Ramadan campaign promoted Egypt, according to Demery, in several Arab countries during the holy month of Ramadan in 2017, namely Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan and Gulf countries. This led to a rise in Arabs coming to Egypt, particularly Cairo.

Led by Demery, the Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA) launched a winter tourism promotion in September 2017. The campaign, which targeted Ukraine, Poland and Germany, aimed to connect tour operators and travel agencies in the Egypt and three countries, respectively. Demery visited the three countries to promote

Will Smith
Will Smith in the Egyptian Museum - Photo Courtesy of Walid El-Batouty

Egypt’s touristic sites and “invade new markets,” as he put it. At the end of his visit to Ukraine, there was an increase in Ukranian winter bookings for the year 2018 by about 30% year-on-year. His trips to Poland and Germany saw similar success, with the former arranging a media visit to Egypt to stimulate Polish tourism to Egypt, and the latter holding workshops to encourage travel to Egypt.

Building new attractions and restoring old ones

To encourage the return of tourism over the last couple of years, there has been a movement to build new attractions and tourist-friendly locations for new tourists to see, and recurring tourists to discover. Simultaneously, there has been a move to fix deteriorating infrastructure to save beautiful, old locations and buildings.

Portuguese singer and sister to footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, Katia Aveiro, performed with great enthusiasm at the opening ceremony of Al-batros Aqua Park Hotel in Sharm El-Sheikh, the largest water park in Egypt. Egyptian businessman Kamel Abo Ali, head of the Red Sea Tourism Investment Association, pointed out that this visit is vital to tourism’s revival as it gives a message to tourists and investors from all over the world that Egypt is safe, especially as Ronaldo’s family is followed on social media platforms by millions of fans.

While building the new locations, the government also ensured that deteriorating hotels and touristic locations are fixed. Commenting on this, Demery explained that, after the 2011 revolution, the country was politically and economically unstable, and so, touristic infrastructure was neglected. Now that Egypt is politically and economically stable, a recent move is emerging to save deteriorating buildings. This, according to Demery, has prepared the country to deal with the expected increase in tourists over the next couple of years. According to a report by the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE), to ensure that deteriorating buildings are saved, the CBE-launched an initiative that assigned LE 5 billion to the renovation of hotels, resorts and touristic destinations across South Sinai and the Red Sea Governorate. The initiative aims to save hotels built since 1989.

Influencer Marketing

Egypt has, during the past couple of years, started marketing its touristic locations and tours by encouraging celebrities or other high-profile personalities who visited the country to talk about it. “We cannot keep saying Egypt is safe, Egypt is beautiful, Egypt is clean, Egypt is a very hospitable country – no. We will never change the perception if the others, the international celebrities, are not saying this on our behalf,” said Demery, conveying the idea that they need to hear it from people they like and who have experienced Egypt themselves.

Demery explained that they invested in trips, tours, and are now especially targeting people coming for the second or third time to speak about how Egypt has improved. Egypt’s ambassadors to the world, who all visited during 2017 and posted about the country to millions of their followers include, Will Smith, Kourtney Kardashian, Luis Fonsi, Lionel Messi and his sister, Chanel Iman and her boyfriend Sterling Shepherd, Ronaldinho, Rayen Giggs, Armin Van Burren, Dylan McDermont, Forest Whitaker, Adrien Brody, Hilary Swank and Nicolas Cage. Other Arab businessmen and investors, like Khalaf Al-Habtoor, also visited Egypt during 2017 and posted about it on social media.

FILE - Morgan Freeman supporting the "This is Egypt" campaign

Walid El Batouty, counsellor to the Minister of Tourism, Egyptologist, World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations’ representative for the Middle East & North Africa and a celebrity travel guide, told Egypt Today that celebrities speaking about their experience in Egypt presents great opportunities. El Batouty gave the example of President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s decision to invite Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, to dinner by the Great Pyramids of Giza. “The pictures were great, we needed the pictures, for us touristic folks. He was conducting his meeting with her in a great location. The lighting was great and so was the overall production,” El Batouty said. “The German market was cut off, but after this, it started gaining momentum again.”

Walid El Batouty
Walid El-Batouty - Photo Courtesy of Walid El-Batouty official Facebook page

In parallel to promoting the various attractions, the government has also worked to better security measures. In 2015, Egypt passed an assessment by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) with inspectors from Dutch, Emirati, Italian and Russian airlines. It is also collaborating with delegations from the UK, Germany and Russia to implement the strongest security measures possible. Furthermore, the Ministry of Tourism installed security measures, including X-ray machines and security scanners, in all touristic resorts to secure holidaymakers.

Today, demand for travel to Egypt has picked up again “as customers look for quality and value,” as Peter Fankhauser, Chief Executive of Thomas Cook, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program. “Egypt is a wonderful country, with great hotels, great beaches and nice people, and it’s really good value [for money]…People want to go back.”

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