“We are approaching the sixth consecutive year in the crisis of a tourism recession and the suspension of more than 250 floating hotels,” says deputy chairperson of the Floating Hotels Investors Association, Abdel Rahman Al-Anwar, in an interview with Daily News Egypt.
According to Al-Anwar, who sat down with Daily News Egypt to discuss the current situation affecting the tourism industry, the losses of the floating hotels sector exceed $1.5bn annually.
The tourism sector is going through a significant crisis. How can you find solutions to overcome this?
Tourism has been in crisis since 2011. It seems to overcome one crisis and then another follows, which is really affecting the image of Egypt’s tourism in the eyes of foreign companies.
Amid these consecutive crises over the past five and a half years, the floating hotels sector has been the worst affected. More than 250 floating hotels operating between Luxor and Aswan have had to suspend operations during this period.
As a result, the floating hotels sector registered annual losses exceeding $1.5bn. These great losses have negatively impacted the huge number of employees in hotels, especially in Upper Egypt, which was already suffering from high levels of poverty.
Investors are fed up and have no solutions—a large proportion of them suffered huge losses over the past five and a half years. The government has the solution.
The government needs to form a crisis committee comprised of several ministries—particularly the ministers of tourism, foreign affairs, and aviation—so as to send a clear message to external markets that the Luxor and Aswan regions are safe.
The president did issue a decision to form the Higher Council for Tourism. So, what is the point of this committee now?
The formation of the Higher Council for Tourism is a good thing. Those working in the tourism market spent a lot of time ensuring that it got off the ground.
There is a problem though: Al-Sisi is working very quickly but the administrative system is not keeping pace with him, which leads to delays in finding solutions for the crisis.
The president handles all the issues so the administrative systems have to understand and work at the same speed as the president is handling the crisis.
The image of Egypt abroad is that we are living through turmoil, which is not the case. This misconception makes European tourism companies push Egypt into the circle of dangerous places. In addition, it makes the insurance companies reluctant or unwilling to insure tourists who wish to visit Egypt, which in turn makes tourists refrain from coming here.
In the 1990s, there was an attack at Deir El-Bahari in Luxor. Egypt was able to sort out the subsequent tourism crisis in just six months, thanks to the policy of separate marketing [marketing every district or city as a separate entity].
That policy should be followed now. Even if there are problems in Sinai, there is no terrorism in Hurghada and other Red Sea cities or in Luxor and Aswan.
Terrorism is everywhere in the world, in France, Belgium, and the United States, not only in Egypt. The European markets should know that. Egypt is not the only country that is suffering.
What is your evaluation of a separate marketing policy for Luxor and Aswan nowadays?
Luxor and Aswan are some of the largest areas suffering from a decline in the tourism influx over the past five years, and we must care about them more.
You can only find those amazing temples and monuments there, not anywhere else in the world. The Nile River as well makes that area unique for marketing programmes.
The Ministry of Tourism must coordinate with the ministries of foreign affairs and civil aviation to lift Egypt off European companies’ red line.
We should create a lobby to encourage foreign companies to take Egypt off the red line. Those companies can profit from their trips to Egypt, and stopping these trips will expose them to losses.
These losses are not only related to Egyptian companies and hotels, but to European or Russian companies as well.
We should facilitate direct flights between Luxor and European capitals as well as from East and South Asian countries to the region.
There are potential tourists in these countries who are interested in seeing Egyptian antiquities and enjoying the warm climate during the winter.
We should not stand by helplessly. Our hotels have not been operational for five years. What else should we do? Disassemble them and sell them for parts?
Why didn’t the private sector develop a marketing plan? Why was the state expected to make the first move?
Investors have knocked on many doors over the past five years, however, the problems worsened and people became desperate.
Through its relations with corresponding ministries in European countries, the state has an advantage. There must be continuous contact with the rest of the world through the coordination between the Egyptian ministries.
The private sector’s ability to address the European official bodies is not as effective as that of the state.
We should not have to wait any longer. The losses have been huge and some people are selling their assets to be able to repay bank loans and pay their employees’ salaries.
What is your evaluation of the state’s support throughout the crisis?
There are many problems in repaying the insurance fund, but what matters to me is that there must be solutions to the crisis. The state should consider how to resolve it, as well as banking support and postponing repayments of receivables.
The recovery of the tourism sector will lower the need for foreign loans and will reduce borrowing rates.
Are there any marketing plans for the coming winter season?
Honestly, a large percentage of the hotels that are still operational do not have marketing plans. Out of 286 floating hotels, the number of operational ones does not exceed 30 hotels. Their prices are high in light of the costly operating costs.
Marketing must come within the framework of a comprehensive plan for resolving the problems facing floating hotels in Luxor and Aswan, where there are 17,000 hotel rooms.
Leaving these hotels in the water when they’re not operational also affects the maintenance companies. Floating hotels require being lifted from the water for maintenance on a regular basis. This is very expensive and is even less affordable nowadays, given the circumstances.
Tourism inactivity means that many job opportunities disappear, and unemployment rates are rising, in addition to other problems related to price increases and US dollar scarcity at the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE).