Egypt’s tourism boss eyes Arab cooperation

Mamdouh Beltagi claims that Egypt’s tourism industry will recover by July 2004.

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By  John Irish Published  April 28, 2003

Mamdouh Beltagi, Egypt’s tourism minister suggested on April 22 that the industry’s regional long-term recovery depended on increased cooperation between Arab nations.

In an interview with Lebanese weekly Monday Morning, Beltagi indicated that this move was imperative to bring nations closer and overcome the susceptibilities that were caused by ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.

“At the next meeting of Arab ministers of tourism, I will call for financing the Council of Arab Tourism Ministers, so that it will be able to reactivate tourism between the Arab states,” he said.

His calls followed reports on April 02 that the number of foreign travellers to Egypt had dropped by 40% after war had broken out and that consequently tourist revenues had fallen by 50%.

An economic study carried out by Egypt’s tourism ministry once the conflict abated, estimated that as a repercussion of the war, tourism activity in the land of the Pharaohs could decrease by 3.4 million tourists in 2003. The survey also suggested that GNP (Gross National Product) could drop by as much as US$1.85 million, with job cuts inevitable.

However, Beltagi was keen to stress that he saw July 2004 as a turning point should the regional geopolitical situation stabilise. In the meantime, he claimed that the March-June 2003 period remained critical as it was still too close to the conflict in Iraq. He estimated traffic during this time could fall by as much as 50%, but that tourist arrivals would gradually pick up by the end of the year.

In the short term, Beltagi indicated that Egypt’s hospitality industry could survive with internal tourism and possibly break even if hotels achieved occupancy rates of between 30%-35%.

“There is no doubt that internal tourism can reach such a rate, which allows hotels to keep working despite the crisis. We have tried in the past few years to promote internal tourism through raising the citizens’ awareness about the richness and diversity of Egyptian historical sites,” said Beltagi.

He added that the tourism authorities had encouraged, in coordination with travel and transport agencies, to reduce hotel room rates by 50% and flights by 15%.

As part of the recovery plan, Beltagi pointed to Masa’Alam, the recently completed Egyptian Riviera (from Taba to Boubih in the southern Sinai) and El Alamein, on the Mediterranean coast as future promotional activity.

“I believe the tourism sector can quickly recover once the situation becomes stable. That’s because Egypt is a peace-loving country that abides by international norms and agreements. It is a prominent tourist country and everyone dreams of visiting the cradle of civilisation,” he said.

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