Egypt Helps the World Overcome a Travel Crisis
by Adel Murad*The International Tourism Organisation (ITO) appointed Dr. Mumdouh El Beltagy, the Egyptian Minister of Tourism, as head of a Crisis Committee (CI) to restore confidence in world travel and tourism. The first CI meeting was held in London alongside the annual World Travel Market, one of the largest gatherings of the industry in which wholesale deals are conducted with tour operators.
ITO estimates that world tourism has declined by some 15% in the last two months, since the terrorist attacks in the US. The problem is widespread and not restricted to countries in the Middle East. The roots are found in the fear of flying and the reluctance to travel. All tourist destinations in the Middle East, including Egypt, have suffered the side effects of this crisis, despite great efforts to illustrate that security levels are maintained at high levels, and that many tourists have enjoyed the hospitality of the Egyptian people.
Dr. Beltagy suggested in the first meeting of the CI that the name should be changed to Revival Committee to reflect the confidence in the industry that the current slow down is temporary and manageable. The suggestion was approved unanimously by the committee which includes 21 ministers and 15 industry experts. The committee will hold its next meeting in Berlin in March 2002.
Among the recommendations suggested by Dr Beltagy is the co-operation of all sides within the industry to promote and encourage tourism and restore confidence in the sector. He also indicated that credit facilities should be extended to tourist establishments to help them overcome their difficulties. He said that although the crisis is international, it should be handled at the national level according to local circumstances.
Egypt has taken active steps to encourage the return of tourists, slashing the prices of internal flights by 40% and reducing entry fees to some tourist attractions. Tourists in Egypt this winter have reported fine weather, remarkable hospitality and absolute security. They see the relative lack of crowds at some world-famous attractions as a real bonus.
One of the recommendations adopted by the ITO was to dissociate between Islam and terrorism. Most industry experts agree that terrorism has nothing to do with religion, and that the image of Islam has been a victim of the terror attacks. The damage is definitely not restricted to Islamic or Middle Eastern countries. Mexico, which relies on American tourists for 80% of its revenues, has seen its tourism decimated in the last two months. Islamic countries, though, suffered most in the current crisis.
According to ITO chief, Francesco Frangialli, tourism will still record a positive note for this year. Growth in revenues for the whole of 2001 is likely to show an increase of 1%, instead of the forecast of 4%. Most of the gains, however, occurred prior to September 11. The current forecast is for the industry to regain its growth momentum in the second half of 2002. This coincides with the expected end of global recession in world economies.
* The author is an Egyptian writer and journalist resident in London, UK. In a personal gesture he is planning to visit Egypt, as a tourist, at the end of December 2001.