Tourists sunbathe in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on November 7, 2015 – AFP
CAIRO – 29 December 2018: This year has been full of ups and downs for the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism, headed by Rania El-Mashat. However, one thing is crystal clear: Egypt, as a whole, has worked hard to ensure that there is a reason for all types of tourists, be it medical, professional, religious, and so on, to visit the country.
Despite recently suffering from a terrorist bus attack, which claimed the lives of three tourists and one Egyptian individual, plans for the new year are still on-going and tourists are still arriving in Egypt to enjoy the end of year celebrations.
The efforts of the Ministry of Tourism, which has faced many challenges and setbacks, cannot go unnoticed. Thus, Egypt Today delves into the details of the key strategies the Ministry of Tourism used to bring back tourists to Egypt.
In January 2018, alone, Egypt saw 712,000 tourists come into the country, according to Trading Economics, the online statistics site. Moreover, tourism in the first half of 2018 jumped by some 77 percent to $4.8 billion, compared to the same period in 2016, a government official told Reuters late August 2018, adding that the number of tourists visiting Egypt saw a year-on-year increase of 41 percent, reaching about 5 million. “Indicators suggest the sector will earn about $9 billion by the end of this year”, he said. The official also stated that most tourists are arriving from Western Europe, especially Italy and Germany, and the Ukraine.
In 2017, 8.3 million tourists visited Egypt, according to official figures, and this number, according to experts and international news sites, is expected to exceed 8 million, and then some, by the end of 2018. This will make at least a 10 percent year-on-year increase from 2017; 2017 had seen about 50 percent year-on-year increase from 2016’s figures.
More recently, a report by Forbes argued that Egypt’s stability and its bettering economic situation is attracting more and more tourists; the article hailed Egypt as a top destination for 2018. “Today, the country is stable and ready to welcome travellers back,” writes Allison Diliengro, citing its “passionate residents” with their welcoming spirits.
Later on, Laurie Werner, unique travel experiences specialist at Forbes, wrote in a report, “In my last visit to Egypt I enjoyed lots of privileges and benefits in comparison to my former visit to Egypt in 2007.”
“During my former visit, the tension and security forces were everywhere; we were warned that we might undergo some threats especially in our visit to Luxor. Yet, after the Arab Spring in 2011, these threats were not essential because tourism reduced to a crawl. But now, the several years of general stability after Egyptian President Sisi came to office all are ended.”
In addition, Forbes recorded that tourism rate increased up to 50 percent compared to last year.
“I stay tuned to the opening of the Great Egyptian Museum that will be officially opened in 2020. I am impatient to see all the unique monuments, distinguished tombstones and new archaeological discoveries,” Werner said.
She calls the entire world to visit Egypt for its incredible places, fabulous hospitality and lovely people. Furthermore, Werner recommended a set of places to visit such as Khan el-Kalalili, Philae temple, El Gouna and Aswan.
Similarly, an article published by Reuters in April 2018 shows that tourism revenues went up from $1.256 billion in the first quarter of 2017 to $2.27 billion during the same period in 2018. Conforming this, al-Mashat recently stated that the number of tourists entering Egypt has increased by 30 percent during the first three months of 2018, compared with the same period in 2017.
In statements to Reuters, Mohab Ghali, Hilton's Vice President Operations for Egypt and North Africa, pointed out that hotel bookings increased between 20 percent and 25 percent 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 percent occupation rate throughout 2017 and that 2018’s numbers look even better so far.
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 percent 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.
In an interview with Manus Cranny and Tracy Alloway on “Bloomberg Daybreak: Middle East” on November 8, Minister of Tourism Rania El-Mashat reaveled that Egypt has witnessed a “steep rebound” in the tourism industry, citing the significant increase in the influx of tourists.
Mashat spoke of tourism’s future, its prospects and the work that the government is doing to get the industry back on its feet. She also revealed, “At the end of this month in Parliament, I will be announcing E-Trip: Egypt Reform Program”
Shortly after, Mashat revealed the E-Trip at a Luncheon at the American Chamber of Commerce. The five-pillar strategy is designed to reform and regulate the industry, as well as to ensure its sustainability.
The five pillars start of at an area that has been criticized over and over again by Egyptians and experts, as well as the minister herself: Administrative and legislative reform. The ministry will look to hire more high-quality professionals who are able to manage work. Moreover, vocational training will be given to those who work in the industry. Earlier this year, while speaking to more than 10 experts about the problem in the industry, they had all agreed that there is a problem with professionalism and that most workers are not trained well enough to deal with tourists. Consequently, the minister has taken a positive step forward and moved towards giving people vocational training, educating them to enable them to deal with tourists well, and teaching them proper etiquette for dealing with visitors.
The second pillar is one that has also been on the forefront of people’s minds over the past two years: Rebranding Egypt. Through social media platforms and social media influencers and bloggers, international tourism campaigns and travel Expos, the tourism is working to rebrand the tourism industry in Egypt as a “responsible choice for eco-friendly tourists” and one that “economically empowers women,” revealed the Tourism Minister.
The third pillar is concerned with fining new markets and diversifying the base from which tourists come to visit Egypt, in addition to beefing up cooperations, focused on tourism, with countries that are considered well-established markets.
The fourth pillar concerns upgrading the hospitability infrastructure. To do so, the Tourism Ministry has decided to launch a private equity find. This fund will also be used to upgrade hotels and resorts that have gone out of style or need to be revamped; an issue that experts we spoke to also brought up.
The fifth, and final pillar, concerns an upgrade to the legislative framework that governs the industry as of right now. Having spoken to sources who called the industry highly bureaucratic, advising that less bureaucracy would help the industry flourish, it sure is a relief to see the fifth pillar of the strategic plan aim to remove bureaucracy and better the legislative framework. The new framework will be an update to a framework that has not been updated in about 40 years, and will see the ministry itself propose ideas for legislative changes.
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. In Egypt alone, Hepatitis C kills some 40,000 people annually. It has also decreased Egypt’s GDP growth by more than 1.5 percent over the past two years; however, the government sees that it is their responsibility to take care of Hepatitis C patients, after years of national struggle with the illness.
For $7,000 (€6,100), 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.
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 percent 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 ($156,450) 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 to Cairo. 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 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.
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 percent in the first quarter of 2017. He further pointed out that Indian tourist nights increased by 185 percent 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 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 percent 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Melania Trump visits Egypt
In her first solo international trip, U.S. first lady Melania Trump visited Africa to launch her campaign, ‘BE BEST’, which raises awareness on cyber bullying, the opioid crisis and child welfare more generally.
Wrapping up her five-day, four-country trip in Egypt, Mrs Trump, who also visited Ghana, Malawi and Kenya, was received by Egyptian First Lady Enitssar Amer at Cairo International Airport. The two then head off to the Presidential Palace, where they enjoyed a conversation over tea and met with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
Later on in the afternoon, Mrs Trump, accompanied by Minister of Tourism Rania al-Mashat, went to see the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx.
While there, the American first lady said, “It was a nice opportunity to see the pyramids in person, which are truly a historical treasure. We must always do our best to preserve such important historical sites, and I was so pleased to learn of the work that USAID has done to help with preservation efforts at the base of the Sphinx,” according to an official statement by the White House.
Giving a strong boost to Egypt’s tourism sector and marking Egypt as safe to those who have doubts or reservations about the country, Mrs. Trump’s visit can be seen as a green light for the rest of the world to feel safe about visiting Egypt; her visit is ushered in thousands of tourists, kicking the half-lazy tourism sector back