Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

20 Sep, 2004

Egypt Pledges Higher Tourism Profile in Asia

CAIRO — Egypt’s new tourism minister is promising to raise the country’s marketing profile in the Asia-Pacific as part of efforts to diversify its sources of visitor arrivals and balance out long-standing reliance on Europe and North America.

Recording growing numbers of visitors from China and India, Mr. Ahmed El Maghraby told a press conference at the Mediterranean Travel Fair (MTF) last week, “The Far East is very much on the agenda of this government.”

He said that having faced a number of security-related and geopolitical crises in recent years, Egypt needs to maintain a strong presence in the medium haul source markets of Europe and North America because they are the easiest to access when mounting recovery programmes.

However, in future, he said an Asia-Pacific focus is “very, very much along the way we are thinking” with expectations of “quite a lot of traffic” in the years ahead.

Mr. El Maghraby did not offer any immediate details, but the head of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, Mr. Elhamy El Zayat, said among the plans being considered is to relocate the Egyptian tourist board’s lone Asia-Pacific office in Seoul to a more central location, possibly Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.

Mr. El Zayat said he also planned to visit Bangkok in late November for talks with the Pacific Asia Travel Association about building more travel contacts between North Africa and the Asia-Pacific.

Mr. El Zayat, whose private company Emeco Travel is also the offline general sales agent in Cairo for Cathay Pacific, said he had already talked to the Moroccan tourist authorities about having a joint North African marketing presence at the PATA annual conference in Macau, April 2005.

Facing the prospects of strong competition from next-door neighbour Libya as it opens up to tourism and attracts investor interest, Egypt is revamping many of its outdated rules and regulations, especially those related to aviation access.

Mr. El Maghraby, 59, himself was appointed last July as part of a major government shake-up. He is a businessman with extensive holdings in the tourism sector, including stakes in a number of properties with French multinational hotelier Accor.

The new prime minister, Ahmed Nazif, 52, is the country’s former minister of communications and information technology and has appointed a cabinet with a youthful look and strong liberal streak.

Most of his ministers are in their 40s and 50s – in stark contrast to the government of former PM Atef Ebeid, 72, whose cabinet, in place since 1999, included a number of ministers in their 70s and 80s.

Egypt recorded about six million arrivals in 2003 and had already crossed that figure by August this year. Mr. El Maghraby has talked of attracting 12 million by 2010 and 25 million by 2014.

More travel contacts between the two regions will also open up prospects of more arrivals from Egypt to Thailand. The two countries are presently served only by twice weekly Egyptair flights, and visas are required by Egyptians visiting Thailand, and vice versa. THAI Airways flew to Cairo for a few years in the 1980s.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand had a first-time presence at the MTF to explore the future potential as part of its own efforts to explore new source markets. The booth cost the TAT nothing; it was given free by the MTF organisers to the Thai embassy in Cairo which handed it over to the TAT.

Arrivals from Egypt to Thailand have risen off a small base from 3,829 in 1997 to 7,489 in 2002. They fell sharply in 2003 as a result of the SARS crisis and the Iraq war, and are on the rise again, with arrivals of 5,077 at Bangkok airport in January-August 2004, up a solid 82 % over the same period of 2003.

Egyptian visitors have an average daily spend of about US$ 102 and an average length of stay of more than 12 days. Like other Middle East/North African countries, their peak outbound is in the hot summer months of July-August, precisely when the TAT is looking to attract more visitors under its freshly-renamed Green Season campaign.

Malaysian Airlines flies to Cairo from Kuala Lumpur twice a week and Singapore Airlines thrice a week. The shortage of direct air-links between the two regions means that most traffic goes through mid-points like Bahrain, Qatar and Dubai on airlines like Gulf Air, Qatar Airways and Emirates.

Other Asia-Pacific countries that participated in the MTF included India, Australia, Indonesia as well as airlines like China Southern.

Mr. Charn Wongsatayanont of Phuket Jet Tour, the only Thai private sector seller at the MTF said he had picked up considerable interest among Egyptian tour operators to sell Thailand and the Asia-Pacific in view of the visa restrictions they now face in Europe as well as the vastly reduced purchasing power of the Egyptian pound in the wake of the strengthening of the euro.

He said he had been told by the Thai ambassador to Egypt that applications for visits to Thailand were now averaging 30-40 a day, against half that number last year.

Comments are closed.