Jul 07 2012
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Tourism looks ahead
Egypt's newly elected president, Mohamed Mursi, reassured the tourism industry during speeches early this week, saying he will do his best to revive the vital sector and attract more investment that would help build a strong economy.
Although Mursi made it clear that he will support tourism, some industry leaders believe there is much more to do. Hossam El-Shaer, head of the Chamber of Tourism Companies, says that the president's speeches are reassuring to many tourists who were afraid of Islamist views on tourism. However, El-Shaer adds, Mursi should find certain guarantees that would allow tourism companies to work freely and without fear of future constraints.
Since tourism is one of the most negatively affected sectors as a result of political instability and insecurity throughout the transitional period that started last year following the 25 January Revolution and, officials from the Muslim Brotherhood -- of which the president is a former member -- were quick to reassure the sector that both Mursi and the Brotherhood would do their best to restore it to pre-revolution levels.
For Ezzat Abdel-Ghaffar, regional director of internal audit at Travco Group, a leading travel agent, the industry didn't lose much during the presidential election because it coincided with an already low season for tourism. "May and June ordinarily witness low numbers of tourists. Occupancy rates of Red Sea hotels are 20 per cent less than the same period last year," he said.
Some of the industry's leaders believe that statements made by Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood officials about tourism contributed, to an extent, to the crisis. For example, the Salafi spokesperson Abdel-Moneim El-Shahat said Egyptian monuments should be covered because, in his view, they are religiously prohibited. He also said that alcohol should not be served to tourists in any hotel.
El-Shaer says that such statements give the world the impression that Egypt is heading back towards a "dark era", especially that Islamists emerged to the forefront of the political scene. "The tourism industry represents 11.5 per cent of total national income, with an investment value of LE200 billion and more than $12 billion in revenue per year," he stated. "It is very strange to risk all that by issuing irresponsible statements."
However, officials of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Nour Party criticised such stringent statements and underlined, on several occasions, that they would never undertake actions that would negatively affect tourism.
Hazem Shawqi, director of the Tourism Committee in the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, was quoted by the Middle East News Agency (MENA) as saying that his party aims to boost the flow of tourists as soon as possible through a number of development projects, including the revival of medical tourism which can attract millions of visitors. Shawqi also stressed that the main reason that kept many potential tourists away from Egypt is a lack of security on Egypt's streets.
El-Shaer added that investment in the tourism industry was halted because of obstacles that include a multiplicity of entities that issue investment permits, and the supervisory and regulatory bodies of hotel facilities. "We need to overcome these obstacles if we are looking for a revival in the tourism industry as a whole," he said.
El-Shaer pointed out that the industry could not depend on internal tourism to cover its losses because it represents only two per cent of total tourism flow, and generates only LE12 billion annually.
"We hope that the flow of tourists will increase starting this July, if Egypt remains calm," said Abdel-Ghaffar, adding that travel agents around the world are waiting to see what will happen after the new president is elected. "I don't think an Islamist president would be of any trouble to tourism; the problem is always with the violence on the streets and the lack of security," he added.
"If violence erupts again, no one will show interest in visiting Egypt."
© Al Ahram Weekly 2012
© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.
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