The past six years were the most difficult years in the history of the tourism sector, according to Elhamy El-Zayat, chairperson of Emeco Group. El-Zayat said that those who work in the tourism industry should not lose hope in its recovery during the coming period.
El-Zayat noted in his interview with Daily News Egypt that Egyptian tourism is capable of recovery in a short period, since Egypt is full of diverse tourism resources such as beaches, antiquates, and safari opportunities. He noted that we should expect the return of Russian trips to Egypt during the upcoming few days.
How do you see the future of tourism in the coming period in light of the challenges experienced by the sector?
Despite the challenges experienced by the sector over the past six years, the sector is still capable of recovery in light of a significant improvement in security indicators over the past two years.
An important aspect to be noted is that Egypt is not the only country suffering from terrorism in the whole world; the only difference is that Egypt is located in a volatile region in the Middle East, with Libya to the west, and Syria and Iraq to the east.
Following the improvement of security procedures at Egyptian airports, the resumption of Russian trips to Egypt is expected in a short period. Germany resumed its flights to Sharm El Sheikh, which already raised hotels’ occupancy during the last two weeks.
There are complaints from workers in the sector that hotels are suffering, especially in replacement and refurbishment processes. What do you think about that?
The complaints are real, and I think that the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) launched an initiative worth roughly EGP 5bn to fund the replacement and renewal processes for floating hotels and car fleets. The initiative will be a step forward to resolve such problems.
The launch of this initiative indicates that the banking system supports the state and aims for the sector to recover within a short period of time.
I know that hotel revenues declined during the last period, but the surrounding circumstances are very difficult. We are better than others, but Egypt is fighting a media war targeting its tourism sector.
I believe that the recovery of the tourism sector will impact many economic sectors, such as industry and agriculture.
You need to know that every room in a hotel provides a job opportunity to three individuals, which is a high employment rate, and this will reduce the unemployment rate in Egypt.
The employers in the tourism sector invested their revenue surpluses in tourism projects at the sea or in South Sinai six years ago. The investment at the time provided more employment opportunities.
How do you evaluate the low ratio of skilled labour in the sector during the recent period?
During the recent period, the tourism sector has lost one of its most important elements: skilled labour. Skilled labourers left Egypt and travelled to other countries in the region to find jobs. The unskilled labour remained, which necessitates beginning the training operations.
The tourism sector before 25 January 2011 registered more than 3.5 million workers, whether direct or indirect, but the situation now is completely different.
Hotels and businesses stopped the training programmes during the last period due to the decline in tourist influx to Egypt.
How do you judge the tourist influx to Egypt during the last year?
The Ministry of Tourism doesn’t provide us with data about the tourist influx, but it certainly declined; however, I expect the indicators to rise again during the current year.
In the last period you opposed the offering of lands for the establishment of new tourism projects. What do you think of the offerings implemented by the General Authority for Tourism Development?
There were more than 225,000 rooms operating in Egypt during the recent period, and there are 200,000 rooms under construction. We also saw how high hotel prices were in Egypt during the past period.
We cannot continue renting hotel rooms in Egypt at a price of $12. What is the service level provided to guests at such low prices?
The current prices will not continue because of hotels’ capacity in light of the decline of tourism.
I wonder: What if the 200,000 rooms under construction entered operations right now? Is there a demand in Egypt to capitalise on the current hotel capacity? I do not think so.
There should be a study of supply and demand, and lands should be offered according to this mechanism to determine what the sector needs. Egypt needs three-star hotels, especially in Cairo, Alexandria, and other touristic areas, such as at the Red Sea and in South Sinai.
I sense optimism in your words. What is behind that?
Egypt is unique in the region as it possesses special tourism resources. In the winter, tourists wish to enjoy its temperate climate, its proximity to Europe, and the short duration of the trip with a low cost of transportation.
The cost of accommodation and tourist services provided to guests is affordable. You can have a week off in one of the excellent tourist areas at the Red Sea for only $400.
Despite the advantages Egypt possesses, there are still a lot of problems: traffic, media, travel bans, terrorism in the region, and a lack of encouraging events.