Middle East: Egypt to expand source markets
Embarking on a global public relations exercise to reclaim Egypt’s position as a top destination in the minds of event planners, Minister of Tourism, HE Hisham Zaazou, spoke to MeetME during his recent visit to Dubai.
Visitor numbers to Egypt have dwindled in the wake of the Arab Spring and the ensuing political turmoil. Now that normality has been restored, what is being done to address the lingering global perception that the country remains unsafe to visit?
Hisham Zaazou: Egypt’s tourism department is spending around US$8 million on a global perception management programme to ease apprehension about the unrest in the recent past and present Egypt once again as an ideal tourism destination. Things are back to normal again, especially in the Egyptian resort cities and we would like to spread the word about this globally.
We have 17 offices around the world, which will tailor the main PR message to the different cultures and regions they address. We are also using new technology – the internet and social media – to influence people in a much more positive way. We entered into an agreement with Google in May to use its services to market ourselves in regions such as the UK and others in Europe. We will be using tools in marketing, reputation management and changing perceptions to help bring more business into Egypt.
With arrivals to Egypt from the EU having slowed, are you looking at the Gulf market or the larger Arab region – and even the Asian market – to plug that gap?
HZ: We look forward to receiving more guests from the Gulf and the wider Arab market and from Asia-Pacific countries, but we are not looking at them as replacement tourists. For us, Europe has always been a very important market and will always be for proximity reasons, but we should not depend 100 percent on any one region. We need to diversify our source markets. I think the Gulf and Arab markets, as well as India and China will be very important along with the long-haul ones such as Latin America.
However, even if you have handsome budgets to promote a destination, with no air accessibility or with no deals for that destination in the air travel sector, you will not be able to realise higher numbers of incoming visitors. I’m here to meet the decision-makers at Emirates airline and Etihad Airways, as well as the low-cost carriers Air Arabia and flydubai. We would like to strike a deal with the airlines where we can welcome guests from India and the Far East that will include stopovers in their home bases, benefiting them in the process. Emirates and flydubai together connect more than 20 points in India every day to Dubai and then fly on to Egypt, so there are possibilities that we could both gain from these volumes.
Are there any specific facilities you are looking to offer in order to make such travel packages more attractive?
HZ: To make it easier for more tourists to come to Egypt, we have removed barriers that existed before, such as the availability of visas. Previously, visitors from India needed to obtain pre-approved visas before arriving in Egypt. Now citizens of India and of many other countries can obtain a visa on arrival at Egyptian airports. We only ask that they visit through a travel company. The government is relying on the guarantee of travel companies that the visitors will return to their own country or travel onward.
What about meetings and conventions in Egypt? Sharm El Sheikh has been one of the biggest destinations for the sector, having consistently hosted high-profile events in the past. What are you doing to revive this sector in the country?
HZ: The great thing about this sector is that one big global congress can do wonders to change perceptions and restore confidence in a destination. With this in mind, we are trying to revive the conventions sector in Egypt. We are in talks to bring gatherings associated with the World Economic Forum to Sharm El Sheikh. We are considering targeting the annual meetings of the World Bank. We are also trying to host ITB Africa in Egypt on the lines of ITB Europe and ITB Asia. This is already under negotiation.
Are there any new projects or facilities coming up for the meetings sector?
HZ: We believe in MICE business as a driver of not just tourism but overall economic growth. We have new tourism developments coming up on Egypt’s Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts, such as at Al Ameen and Hurgadha. These projects will all include convention centres and facilities for MICE business.
Are you offering any financial or other incentives to meeting planners who want to bring their conferences and events to Egypt?
HZ: The larger the group, the more the incentives we offer. We are keenly looking at the incentive travel market, where we believe Egypt has a proposition that sets it apart. Our first target market is India where we are trying to talk to entities such as retailers’ unions and small- and medium-enterprise unions, for incentive trips. We are also trying to work with the Indian Federation for Travel Agents to bring its annual conference and incentive trip to Egypt, which will raise our profile in India. We can then replicate this in other source markets.