By Ahmed Saad
Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou said in an interview with Al-Borsa that the conference for the Quality Tourism Alliance (QTA), which includes over a thousand German tourism companies, will be held next October in Luxor instead of Israel, due to the latter’s recent war with Gaza.
Zaazou said that hosting the QTA will have a positive impact on other countries that contain large amounts of tourists, particularly given the fact that the production value for the QTA is approximately €4.1 billion a year in Germany.
The Ministry of Tourism will implement nuanced methods of stimulating tourism, including online marketing and producing films higlighting Egypt’s historical and archaeological sites and tourist destinations said Hisham Zaazou, Minister of Tourism.
He revealed that the ministry and the American production company that produced a Tom Hanks film in Hurghada came to an agreement to film sites and landscapes in Egypt which will ultimately be used as footage for these promotional videos.
Zaazou said that the ministry agreed with the state of Latvia, which will chair the next session of the EU, to reintroduce the opera ‘Aida’ next December.
He pointed out that the ministry seeks to increase the number of visitors to historic Cairo by holding celebrations in the capital’s archaeological zones. He hopes this will revitalise tourism in the city after hotel occupancy rates dropped to 10% due to the political unrest.
He added that the ministry will open the tomb of Nefertari to tourists after it was closed for renovations for many years to mark the 110th anniversary of its discovery by Italian archaeologist Schiaparelli.
He stressed that the ministry has begun to restructure the Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA) to diversify its marketing and promotional activities.
He also said that the ministry has suspended the operations of four foreign TPA offices abroad so as to rein in spending. However, he indicated that similar offices may open in Arab Gulf countries.
Zaazou said that following the “We Missed You” campaign, which aimed to draw more Arab tourists to Egypt, numbers of Arab tourists reached unprecedented levels. This campaign followed an announcement by many foreign countries warning their citizens against travelling to Egypt.
He pointed out that Arabs make up about 20% of total visitors to Egyptian destinations while other foreigners make up about 73% of arrivals. Zaazou said: “Egypt witnessed a great return of Arab tourism during 2014, with traffic from certain countries increasing by 300%.”
Statistics issued in July 2014 showed that Arab tourism in Egypt was up 16% compared to July 2013.
Zaazou explained that Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of the increase in Arab tourism, with 29,500 Saudis coming to Egypt between July 2013 and July 2014, representing an increase of 279%. For the same period, 7,290 Kuwaiti tourists came to Egypt, an increase of 270%, and 3,936 Emirati tourists visited Egypt, up 403% from the previous year.
The minister pointed out that the overall number Arab visitors during the first half of 2014 was up about 45% compared with the corresponding period in 2013.
Zaazou said that the Egyptian people did not welcome the idea of Iranian tourists despite the fact that Iranian tourists are some of biggest spenders in the world. He said that there likely will not be any large volume of Iranian tourism in coming period because of security considerations.
He said the ministry will begin to modify its plans to stimulate European charter flights, with the current system expiring at the end of October 2014.
He said that the ministry will lower the cost of plane tickets for flights that bring in many tourists, especially for the cities of Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada.
He explained that the ministry will subsidise vacant seats on flights to the cities of Luxor and Aswan to stimulate the cultural tourism there. This form of tourism has suffered over the past few years and revenues have declined; the ministry hopes its plan to increase air traffic to both cities will reverse this trend.
Zaazou said that repeat visitors represent 33% of the total number of arrivals, adding that the ministry is working to retain the loyalty of such tourists.
He said that beach tourism began to recover during recent months and the ministry is attempting to stimulate cultural tourism in Luxor, Aswan, and Cairo, where hotel occupancy rates reached about 10%.
He said that 80% of Egyptian tourism takes place in the cities of the Red Sea, and that the ministry seeks to attract tourists to other coastal areas, such as the northwest coast.
He explained that the North Coast is the new hotspot, and the ministry is working to make this known. Italian tourism in the region is strong in this section of the country, and there is an expected influx in the number of German tourists to the North Coast next May.
He said that the North Coast can be accessed by four airports: Borg Al-Arab, El-Alamein, El-Nouzha, and Marsa Matruh. He explained that the region needs more hotel capacity in order to accommodate the needs of European tourism companies looking to book travel to the country.
The ministry plans to extend the North Coast tourism season from 3 months to 8 months in a given year, especially in light of its proximity to Europe.
He said the Sharm El-Sheikh has roughly 56,000 tourist hotel rooms available, compared to 7,000 rooms on the North Coast, which clearly illustrates the need for more hotels in the latter region.
He said that Ministry of Tourism is cooperating with the Ministries of Defence and Housing to identify land that could be developed along the North Coast. By the end of 2014, he expects the ministries will have held public offerings for tracts of land using the usufruct system.
Zaazou added that the Tourism Development Authority is working in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing to take advantage of the vacant spaces in the North Coast Marina to establish more hotel units.
Regarding plans to develop the Suez Canal logistical hub, Zaazou said that the ministry is approaching this national project seriously. There are additional plans to develop hotel infrastructure in the cities of Port Said and Ismailia to increase tourist access.
He added that the ministry had not yet received any decisions regarding the establishment of tourist units in the region, pointing out that the land in the canal zone is currently under the control of the armed forces.
He revealed that he is currently in talks with the Ministry of Youth and Sports to establish school trips and university holidays to Egyptian tourist areas through joint programmes.
He said that the ministry is planning to promote single-day and weekend tourism. He considers Egyptian tourism a key aspect of tourism revenue during the summer months.
Zaazou said that the ministry aims to attract one million Indian tourists over three years. EgyptAir will be responsible for transporting tourists to and from New Delhi and Bombay.
He explained that Indian tourism agencies suspended EgyptAir flights until February 2015, instead of October 2014 as originally planned.
He said the government was issuing a decree to establish an advisory board for the Minister for Tourism that would include the chairman of the Federation of Chambers of Tourism and a large number of tourism operators. These would be divided according to specialty and work towards resolving the current crises.
He pointed out that the ministry is leaning towards terminating the unified tourism law and replace it with a single, one-stop framework. They are seeking support from the private sector to improve quality and competitiveness.
Regarding the estate tax law, Zaazou said: “Red Sea hotels will not face problems in with the taxes. The problem lies with historic hotels that exist primarily in Cairo.”
In conclusion, Zaazou said that the way in which the Ministry of Finance intends to enforce the estate tax will make Cairo hotels pay 10 times what they are currently paying.