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Egypt eyes Asian tourists

Almost four years after the Russian plane crash over Egypt’s Sinai, the country’s recovering tourism sector is moving to expand the Asian markets.

CAIRO — Egypt’s tourism sector has recovered appreciably during the first three months of the fiscal year 2018-2019, according to the Egyptian Central Bank. There has been an increase in tourists arriving in Egypt after a nosedive following the 2011 revolution and the subsequent protests and the 2015 crash of a Russian plane in Sinai.

Leaders in the tourism sector are seeking to boost tourism from east and southeast Asia, particularly China.

Ahmed Hamdi, former deputy head of Egypt's Tourism Development Authority, said that the Russian plane crash was a turning point in Egypt’s tourism industry as Russia and the UK suspended flights, which accounted for 30-40% of the Egypt's inbound tourism. He told Al-Monitor that in the wake of the incident, the Ministry of Tourism begun to consider parallel tourism markets and niches, especially in east and southeast Asia.

Asian tourists to Egypt already rank third in terms of numbers, with 670,000 tourists out of a total of 11.5 million visiting Egypt in 2018. Hamdi said that the Asian markets look promising, especially in the cultural tourism department, which has seen a decline over the past years. He called on Egyptian tourism companies to target the Asian market, particularly Japan, China and Vietnam.

Egypt’s Bright Star Travel, a private company, announced in February that it had contracted with more than 35 tour operators in Indonesia. The company’s chairman, Hani Peter, said Feb. 9 that Bright Star and Indonesia’s Christmas Tour agreed to aim for more than 2,000 tourists a month from East Asia, mainly Indonesia, starting in March.

Egyptian Tourism Minister Rania al-Mashat is preparing to launch an international promotional campaign for Egypt’s most famous tourist destinations via social media in cooperation with the global travel brand Beautiful Destinations. During her meeting with founder Jeremy Jauncey in late January in Cairo, Mashat said that the ministry is looking to attract more inbound tourism from Asia, including China and India.

Chinese tourism to Egypt grew by 30% in 2018 compared to the previous year, according to Chinese CGTN channel.

The Egyptian Tourism Development Authority has offices in China and India, working on promoting Egyptian tourist destinations in Asia.

The Ministry of Tourism plans to sign a cooperation protocol with the telecommunications giant Huawei to promote tourism in Egypt by displaying Egyptian tourist destinations as backgrounds on mobile phones.

According to Hamdi, the ministry is trying to reorient the map of the nation’s inbound tourism, which accounts for 20% of the country’s GDP.

The Central Bank of Egypt data showed that Egypt’s revenues from tourism rose during the first three months of the current fiscal year by 45.7% compared to the same period of the previous year. Egypt’s tourism revenues from July to September 2018 stood at $3.93 billion, compared to $2.7 billion for the same period last year.

Egypt has made significant investments in infrastructure to promote tourism. On Jan. 25, Egypt opened a new international airport near the pyramids of Giza and the Egyptian Museum. The airport is scheduled to operate at full capacity by 2020. The government also plans to inaugurate the Grand Egyptian Museum near the pyramids and the Sphinx the same year. The museum will display more than 100,000 artifacts, including 20,000 pieces that will be shown for the first time.

Wagdi al-Kardani, the former president of the Egyptian Chamber of Tourism, is less optimistic about the incoming tourist numbers from Asia. He told Al-Monitor that Asian tourism numbers have not been as high as expected because the lack of direct flights from these countries to Egypt.

Hamdi and Kardani agree that to increase the number of Asian tourists visiting Egypt, the first step should be focusing on direct flights. Hamdi, however, believes that the government is trying instead to promote "tourism flights" within the country.

As part of the efforts to encourage tourism, in October 2018, the Egyptian Tourism Ministry initiated an incentive program for nine destinations from November 2018 until April 29, 2020. The Ministry of Tourism will pay aviation companies a set amount of several thousand dollars for every flight that achieves 65% occupancy to Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Marsa Matrouh, Taba and Alamein. The incentives go up with the number of weekly flights.

Kardani decried Egypt Air’s monopoly over the market and grip over the aviation sector. He demanded that an open skies policy be implemented at the Cairo airport to ease tourist traffic from and into Cairo, lower prices and encourage private aviation companies to increase flights to Egypt.

Hamdi expects an increase in tourists from Japan with the return of direct flights between Cairo and Tokyo in 2017, after a four-year hiatus owing to low demand.

Tourism industry insiders estimate that Japanese tourists spend the most at up to $150 per night. The ministry is working to attract the same number of Japanese as before the revolution, or 130,000 inbound visits annually.

In October 2018, the Ministry of Tourism contracted with advertising companies MCN and Synergy to promote Egyptian tourism abroad, though Hamdi believes it would have been better to work with local companies within each county targeted.

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