With the Egyptian tourism industry on the upswing, Ahmed Al Maghraby couldn’t have asked for a better time to take over the reins of office.
The country recorded the highest-ever number of tourist arrivals in 2003 and, by all accounts, things are promising to get better this year. To his credit, former tourism minister Mamdouh Al Beltagui, now minister of information, did a lot to beef up the tourism movement but the challenge before the newly-appointed minister is to further improve the situation.
A prominent businessman, former stockbroker and member of the ruling party’s Economic Committee, the National Democratic Party, Al Maghraby is confident of making a success of his new job and living up to the high expectations people have from him. He has certainly started off on the right foot by championing free market and attracting foreign investment in Egypt’s tourism infrastructure. Among others, he has pledged to remove obstacles impeding the tourist inflow to Egypt and called for coordination between various ministries to enhance tourist facilities.
He talks to TTN about his plans to the tourism industry and make Egypt a top tourist destination. Excerpts from an interview:
How do you plan to further boost Egypt’s tourism potential?
Egypt is well on the world tourism map, and very prominently so. What I am aiming for is to advance Egypt’s position within the group of top world tourism destinations. This will be done by putting into operation a group of measures that would enable us to achieve an average growth rate of 10 per cent, whereby we will be able to double the number of tourist arrivals every seven years.
What are the key areas identified for improvement? And what steps are being taken to improve Egypt’s image as a destination?
One of my main concerns is the continuous improvement of our tourist product. This means that every component of that product should be constantly improved – whether that component is structural such as our airports, roads, hotels, tourist sites, or human such as our workforce in the tourism industry and in associated professions, all has to undergo constant improvement. This will be done by active and effective collaboration between the ministry of tourism and other ministries such as civil aviation, culture, transport, etc. Furthermore, great emphasis is now placed on human resources development and training both within the tourism sector and in other related sectors to raise the standard of our workforce to international quality levels.
Regarding Egypt’s image as a tourism destination, we closely work with the specialised media campaign management companies in charge of executing Egypt’s promotional campaigns all over the world. At the same time, we are now in the process of starting two major image enhancement projects: the first is the creation of a new tourism master plan for Egypt which will include an important image enhancement sector, and the second is the creation of a new “Egypt Portal” on the worldwide web that will be advanced and will have a great effect on Egypt’s image.
Unemployment is high and entrepreneurs are forever complaining that the bureaucracy is stifling the country’s growth. These are, perhaps, the two biggest challenges you are facing today. How do you plan to overcome them?
Since tourism is a labour intensive industry its expansion, as such, is a good path for job creation. On the other hand measures for activating the e-government, simplification of investment procedures, follow up, direct and easy access to the decision makers, transparency help us tackle bureaucracy.
You have called for cooperation between the ministry of tourism and other ministries to enhance tourist facilities and maintain tourism success, how have the other ministries responded to this so far?
Very satisfactorily. Time will judge the results of such cooperation.
How are you planning to remove the obstacles obstructing tourism flow?
Through collaboration. As you know, tourism is an industry or activity that relates directly to dozens of other official and unofficial activities. From visas issued by the ministry of foreign affairs, to entry formalities managed by the ministry of interior, to the airports managed by the ministry of civil aviation, to the tourist sites managed by the ministry of culture, to the hotels and tour companies which are private sector, you will clearly see that top-level coordination and collaboration between us and all these partners is essential. This is my solution to the gradual removal of those obstacles you mentioned. And the good news is that this approach is working. In the 50 days that I have been here, I have networked heavily with several of my colleagues and have managed to successfully remove some of these obstacles, and more is on the way.
What is being done to upgrade tourist sites in order to attract tourist and investors?
The ministry of culture is actively working to improve the accessibility to several tourist sites and to provide them with better facilities such as parking areas, toilets and waiting areas. Furthermore, we are paying attention to the enhancement of all infrastructure related to Nile cruise tourism, including the construction of new, well-equipped docking facilities, and the renewal of access stairs at all sites along the river. Another area of improvement is the creation of ‘visitors’ centres’ at prominent sites to manage congestion. This has already been successfully done in Abu Simbel, by the ministry of culture. The next main one will be at the Pyramids of Giza, followed by Sakkara, and I hope to see one in the Valley of the Kings before long. All of these undertakings will have a very positive effect on the growth of tourism. I also believe that investors will follow.
Soon after taking over your new position in July this year, you championed the free market and said attracting foreign investment would be your top priority. What economic reforms are there in the pipeline?
Basic infrastructure for economic reform towards full activation of free market mechanism has already been implemented. However, steps are being taken in both financial monetary areas to attract both foreign and local investors. Issues regarding capital and profit repatriation are solved, continuous support for stock market are going steamily, simplification of investment procedures are top priority and a new ministry for investment is established for the first time which, in itself, is a clear message of the weight given to investment by the new cabinet.
We’ve received very encouraging responses from leading companies including one of the top ten tour operators. Negotiations are underway between Egyptian and foreign investors for the establishment of new destination on the Mediterranean Sea. This will, attract supporting activities and further investments in other sectors.
Since the new Egyptian government is seen to be as more open and accountable, will that make your job easier?
For someone working in an internationally-competitive environment for so many years transparency and accountability definitely make the job easier.
As the economy relies heavily on tourism and the new cabinet has identified tourism as the most important sector in the country, what are you doing to change the perception that the Middle East is dangerous and attract more tourists from the West?
Results so far indicate that such perception is changing as evidenced by the steady increase of Western tourist in Egypt. As an example, the number of Western tourists who visited Egypt (Europeans and Americans) during the first seven months of this year has doubled compared to the same period last year.
As board chairman of Accor hotels in Egypt, you also know the tourism business intimately what are you doing to attract more international chains to the country and make the business environment for existing hotels?
The importance of international hotel chains stems from the fact that such firms are very proficient in marketing. We know well how marketing is essential in achieving the highest rates of tourist development. Fortunately, Egypt is a country where a large number of the international hotel management chains are based.
The best way to attract new international firms to work in Egypt is to help the existing firms to achieve success.
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