Interview: Gerald Lawless
What impact have travel advisories had on Egypt’s attractiveness as a destination?
GERALD LAWLESS: Tourism is vital to Egypt’s economy and social peace. In 2016 the sector contributed to the tune of LE194.8bn ($12.8bn) to the economy, or 7.2% of total GDP. It also supported 1.8m jobs in 2016, or 6.6% of total employment. Even though these figures remain significant, they show a great decrease in impact since the attacks in Cairo and particularly since the Metrojet plane crash. In 2016 the sector’s contribution to GDP dropped by 12.2% compared to 2015, while sectoral employment decreased by 15.9%. According to figures from the UN World Tourism Organisation, international arrivals were down 42.1% in 2016.
However, it is reassuring to see figures published by the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Authority which suggest a 51% rise year-on-year in the first four months of 2017. Egyptian authorities have taken significant measures to improve the level of security, not only in the airports, but also in the surrounding areas. It is of great importance that these security measures are not only communicated effectively to those that will make policy decisions around flying to the destinations, but also to consumers so that they are aware of the measures put in place. It will take a while for Egypt’s tourism to return to its pre-2011 peak, but as we see positive figures we fully believe that the country’s travel and tourism industry will continue to recover quickly.
What additional efforts could be made to raise the country’s status as a meetings, incentives, conferences and events destination?
LAWLESS: We have to further encourage investment into infrastructure, which includes airports and air connectivity, entry and exit systems which are efficient and secure, and building hotels and attractions to meet the demands of the traveller. Investment needs to be aligned with demand forecasts and sustainable so we preserve the assets of the destination. We have observed growth in intra-African travel, and this is an area Egypt should capitalise on. Connectivity remains a challenge in Africa, and therefore Egypt could benefit from working on improving flight connections to other African countries. Egypt has historically focused on source markets in Europe, and catered to the needs and expectations of European travellers.
Destination marketing is another key element in increasing inbound figures. As various governments advise against travel to certain parts of Egypt and tour operators have stopped offering tours to Sharm El Sheikh, it is important that the government markets the diversity of the country. The government also recently adopted electronic visas for international business and leisure travellers from certain countries in order to boost tourist arrival figures.
How can the pool of qualified labour for the hospitality and tourism industries be strengthened?
LAWLESS: Tourism is a huge source of employment in Egypt, and as the number of international visitors to the country increases it is important that this relationship to employment is sustained. The WTTC has been encouraging governments, educational institutions and tourism companies to address human capital in tourism, and put attractive education and career programmes in place to employ and retain the best talent. Travel and tourism often suffers from misconceptions associating employment merely with hotel or tour operator jobs. However, there are many exciting employment opportunities within tourism, ranging from administration to accounting, from graphic design to sales and marketing, and so forth.
Governments need to work together with the private sector to support initiatives that encourage the recruitment and retention of skilled staff in the travel and tourism industry, thereby reversing current negative perceptions and motivating a new generation to aspire to a long-term career in the tourism sector.
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