Egypt, new dimensions, new frontiers

H.E. Dr. Mamdouh El Beltagui, Minister of Tourism

Interview with:

H. E. Dr. Muhammed Mamdouh Ahmad El-Beltagi
Minister of Tourism

Cairo, April 26th, 2000

Abassia Square, Misr Travel Tower,
Tel: (202) 284 17 07
        (202) 282 84 39
Fax: (202) 285 95 51
         (202) 263 71 99

We had the pleasure of interviewing you last year for our special report in Forbes Magazine. So how has tourism been for Egypt this year?

When I saw you last year I predicted that 1999 would be a boom year for tourism in Egypt, and this has been proved to be correct. Egypt had a record 4.8 Million tourists last year, and this is unprecedented, as it represents a 39% growth rate compared to 1998. The first 3 months of 2000 have shown a 27% growth compared to the similar period in 1999.

Egypt is growing in popularity as a tourist destination across the world. We have worked hard to develop this, and we believe that there is still more potential to be realised. We have over 2,700 Km of wonderful, unpolluted, beaches and corral reefs. We can offer dream cruises on the historic river Nile, and fantastic desert experiences - safaris in the White Desert for example. The list is endless - we really have a lot to offer.

We presently have nearly 100,000 rooms, and three new airports are being built under the BOOT scheme. A network of roads linking the Nile valley with the Red Sea is now underway and we are upgrading our existing airports to increase capacity and quality. Liberalisation of the civil aviation policy is also progressing fast. There is so much happening here, and the energy and dynamism that is present everywhere in Egypt is particularly visible here in this ministry.

It is our objective to double the number of tourists visiting Egypt by the end of 2005, which would mean 9.5 million tourists per year, and therefore we need to double the number of hotel rooms over the same period. Our projected revenue from this is LE 10 billion by 2005.

One of the most important things we are working at developing is global quality control. In terms of the environment, infrastructure and services, hygiene, quality of hospitality and so on. Basically the resource strategy we are following is geared to meet these needs. We have international institutes for training hotel and tourism professionals, and there is one from Lausanne and one from Lyon, for example. The Ministry for Tourism, the Union of Travel Agents and the Social Fund, are putting a great deal of funding into training for the hospitality industry, and we are working a great deal on technological education, since we feel that this will facilitate organisational and marketing procedures.

We are also interested in expanding our promotional campaigns abroad, including media coverage from TV and newspaper networks. The ministry and its associated organisations have four Websites up and running already, and this is just the beginning.

You mentioned three new airports that are under construction in Egypt. Will they be ready in time to cope with the increased air traffic that will result from the Open Skies agreement?

We plan to increase both supply and demand simultaneously. We think of the supply side mainly in terms of accommodation, but it also concerns infrastructure and communications. With the huge budget allocated for infrastructure I am sure the requirements will be met on time.

Do you think that the investment boom that you have seen is a response to the incentives offered by your Ministry?

We have seen a huge number of investors, both from Egypt and abroad, and these people are coming to enjoy both the opportunities and the incentives on offer. There are many high class hotels such as the Hyatt and the Ritz-Carlton opening in Egypt, and soon the Four Seasons group will be here. These companies only go to the best of locations - they cannot afford to do less - and we have some of the best sites in the world on offer. Quality is the name of the game here in Egypt, and our price to quality relationship is very good indeed.

We recently met with the President of the Federation of Tourist Chambers, and he mentioned that between nine and twelve jobs are created for every hotel room that opens. This is undoubtedly a fantastic economic spin off. Would you agree that tourism is going to be the engine for growth in the modern Egyptian economy, and that it will lead to huge developments in the retail, communications, infrastructure, and construction sectors?

Yes. In fact, we launched the slogan, 'Tourism: the propeller of economic and social development.'

It really is an engine for growth and the multiplier effect makes it even more valuable to the country. The WTO did studies which showed that 70 other industries and services are dependent on tourism in Egypt. We are now running a very scientific study about the economic effect of tourism on Egypt. We believe that this will show that tourism provides between ten and eleven percent of the GDP and has created over 2.2 Million job opportunities, both directly and indirectly, as well as generating well over four billion US dollars revenue last year alone. We have not received the exact calculations from the central bank as yet, so this is only an estimation.

How does your ministry seek to balance a growth in tourism with the protection of environmental and archaeological sites?

I would like to emphasise the fact that we are really very serious about these issues. The conservation of the natural and historical wealth of the country is of paramount importance to us, and we have been very strict indeed.
We make many environmental demands on investors and developers. The tourist industry is now completely in the hands of the private sector, but this does not mean that there is no state control, far from it. We offer very appealing incentives for investors but, on the other hand, we demand compliance with environmental regulations. Law No. 4 of 1994 deals specifically with this issue and insists on absolute compliance with environmental protection legislation.

The Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for all the archaeological sites in Egypt has an ongoing programme for conservation and preservation. Some sites are closed until they can be stabilised, with relation to humidity and so on, and sometimes we are obliged to limit the number of visitors to certain sites, which is unfortunate, but necessary. It is our belief that the historical treasures in Egypt are the property of humankind, not just today's generation, but of future generations as well.

What is your strategy to develop the full potential of tourism here in Egypt, and how do intend to increase the tourist base to include, for example, recreational and adventure tourists as well as cultural visitors?

We have had an active strategy to increase the tourist base for some time now. We have the Traditional Pharonic sites at Luxor and Aswan, the Egyptian Museum and so on, but as well as these we are looking to develop the Greco-Roman sites in Alexandria and the Golden Tombs of Wadi Bachreer. The Christian cultural side is also being developed, the Holy Family's voyage through Egypt has been marked as a trail, for example. Cairo's Islamic architecture is undergoing a revival of interest at present and much time and energy is being invested in support of this. There has been a lot of diversification, adding recreational and beach holidays to the existing cultural itineraries. There is a lot of potential here, as well as with safaris and eco-tours. There is a lot of wild life around the dam, and there are now safaris around this region. You can see birds and crocodiles and lots else besides. However, I must point out that despite the crocodiles, it is completely safe!

How do the ETA (Egyptian Tourism Authority) and the TDA (Tourism Development Authority) fit into the plan to develop Egyptian tourism?

The ETA and the TDA are both parts of the Ministry of Tourism. The ETA is mainly responsible for the promotion of tourism abroad and the TDA is responsible for tourist developments at home. We also have a third sector which is specifically geared towards conferences and exhibitions called the Cairo International Conferences Centre

What is your strategy to bring more international conferences to Egypt?

This is an up-and-coming part of the industry, and there are often special meetings to develop this side of things. We participate in these meetings with travel agents who wish to benefit from this trade. In the last few weeks we have had several international conferences here For example in May 2000, the Cotal, which refers to Latin American Travel Agents and the FIAFET, the Italian federation of travel agents are going to be held in Egypt. We have huge facilities for international conferences, and they are almost fully booked until 2003, so we are not doing badly.

In which areas are there business opportunities for foreign investors here in Cairo? In the hotel industry, in the tour operator market or in infrastructure?

Foreign companies are welcome to invest in all of these sectors, obviously, but what we may need greater investment in is the entertainment industry. We have already started attempting to increase investment into this sector. Infrastructure projects also require a great deal of investment. As a liberal economy we welcome BOOT projects, even for airports, and as I mentioned, a new one will open only a few months from now in Marsa Alam.

Are you trying to develop different areas, the South West coast for example?

Yes, there is a lot of development potential there, in the oases and the western desert too.

What do you feel are your most significant accomplishments since you became Minister for Tourism?

I took over the ministry at the end of the year 1993, and we had, at that time 2.5 million tourists per year, and by the end of 1999, we had nearly five million. We have had an annual rate of growth rate of more than 16%. This is more than five times the growth rate of tourism world-wide. In 1993 we had 57,000 hotel rooms and now we have100,000. Revenue from the industry has more than doubled over the same period. These are impressive figures, as I'm sure you will agree.

We are also proud of being an innovative Ministry. We presented the idea of BOOT projects to the Government, as well as the Tourist Agenda, which now comprises over thirty artistic, cultural and sporting events each year. We have done a lot of work on human resources training and information technology development too. We have been very busy and the pace looks set to continue. One of the biggest challenges we face is importing the concept of a service culture into Egypt.

As the Minister of Tourism, what is your favourite holiday destination?

Naturally I spend my vacations here in Egypt! Last winter I went on a Nile cruise to Luxor, but the beach in Sharm al Sheik is looking very attractive at the moment!

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© World INvestment NEws, 2000.
This is the electronic edition of the special country report on Egypt published in Forbes Global Magazine.
August 7th 2000 Issue.
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