Egypt Tourism Looks to 2009

For the past several years, Egypt has been a tourism stalwart and even in the current economic climate, continues with strong sales—no doubt shored up by the lure of the unforgettable cultural and historical experiences this ancient land promises travelers.

Just a few short months ago, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism Zoheir Garranah—a 26-year veteran of the travel business himself who was sworn in as tourism minister over three years ago—realistically reminded USTOA members worried about the financial crisis that, “…no matter what the numbers look like, we must not lose sight of the fact that crises—no matter how hard they hit, or how long they last—are always limited in time. We must keep our eyes focused on the future and we must be confident that our industry will indeed, bounce back.”

He also articulated his belief that, “Today more than ever before, the need to travel and the desire to travel are deeply ingrained in people all over the world and despite the tough times, people will continue to travel, even if only for that ‘one holiday a year.’ But everyone—without exception—will definitely be more selective and seek better value for money when selecting their destination, even if that means that they will travel a longer distance from home.”

Later, in a one-on-one interview with Recommend, the minister had more specific advice for U.S. travel agents about selling Egypt product. “You have to believe very much in what you’re selling and definitely you have to have knowledge about the destination you’re selling,” he points out. “And travel agents—you know that I was a tour operator and a travel agent—have to play a major role in selling a package the client trusts. This is the only way to go. You have to promote your knowledge of the product because this is a one-to-one relationship, it’s not the Internet. This means giving a lot of personalized service.”

The minister also pointed out that this is not the time to put travel sales on automatic and that to succeed in this economic clime, it needs very much to be a one-on-one approach. “This is what I think the world has lost,” he says, as the number of potential travelers has grown. “At one point,” he says, “let’s say there were 300 million and who knows how many people selling the tours and now there are 500 million and it’s become like a machine. So we want to extend that knowledge,” he says, “that will enable the agent to get back to more personalized service and give them the ability to sell more. And in keeping with that philosophy,” he added, “we have a learning program on our website on how to sell Egypt.”

Garranah also proudly pointed out that, “I believe very much that in bad times, Egypt has always been there. We will invest heavily in the marketing of our general campaign, we will be more active on the co-marketing cooperation that we have with the tour operators and then we have to help build the consumer confidence.”

And to support that claim, he pointed out that each year Egypt spends tens of millions of dollars on global marketing and communications campaigns in an effort to place Egypt at the top of consumer minds around the world and, more importantly, on fostering relations with their travel partners. Infrastructure, too, he said, has seen phenomenal expansion with the modernization of airports, roads and ports throughout the country, with the availability of 211,000 rooms and another 156,000 under construction at the end of 2008.

Finally, he said that agents should remember that while, “Things are bad, they’re not that bad. There is this fear and uncertainty about the future and what’s going to happen tomorrow.” But, he added, “Traveling is something that we all got used to—it’s like eating and drinking. So, maybe the people will be more choosy and we just have to be there at the right time and try to sell our product in a much better and smarter way. And I think if we do that, it will be all right.”