Since 2011, Egypt has had various transformations and through the process, the beleaguered country’s travel and tourism industry has done its best to stay resilient. But, as they say, even the most resilient walls can unravel. This begs the question: Is Egypt the epitome of Arab Spring gone wrong?
I directed this question to Egyptian Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou himself during our meeting in Livingstone, Zambia, at the recently concluded 20th edition of the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) General Assembly, which was jointly co-hosted by the governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Minister Zaazou said: “I won’t say the Arab Spring has gone wrong. It has caused positive, social justice, freedom of expression and democracy. I want to remind you [that] big revolutions have waves. We need to get back in the right time, so that’s what we are doing at the moment. So, the Arab Spring did not fail. The Arab Spring is still vibrant for us to pursue.”
According to Minister Zaazou, he is expecting that “things will go back to normal in Cairo within a month’s time.” He was quick to note, however, that other parts of Egypt are very much open for business. “It is safe to go to Sinai, the Red Sea and Sharm el Sheik,” he said.
He bemoaned the fact that certain governments are issuing “unjust travel advisories.” They should be more specific, according to him, and that these advisories should point out that not the entire Egypt is a “hot spot” of violence. For this reason, Minister Zaazou said that the travel warnings and travel bans are unwarranted.
If it were up to him to make a travel advisory, he said: “Wait a little longer before making travel plans to visit Cairo if you want to see Cairo in its normal setting, but the resort areas in other parts of the country are open for business and are most definitely safe to visit.”
The safety and security of tourists visiting Egypt has never really an issue, as history tells us. Since the violence and conflict began, no single tourist has been harmed. “This is because Egyptians recognize the value of the travel and tourism industry to the economy and that, this is very important, the conflict is internal and among Egyptians only. Tourists are left alone and are safe.” Even in Cairo today? “Yes.”
The minister also pointed out that his tourism ministry recently invited a group of Russian consumers and journalists to visit the resort areas in the country. Such an initiative was undertaken because the minister said Russians are an important market for Egypt. “We have had nothing but positive feedback from this group,” he said. “In fact, I am extending an invitation to you to come see for yourself what the real situation is.”
The minister’s invitation is one that I am keen on accepting. Back in 2011, I had called on bosses and experts of some of the world’s top travel and tourism organizations to weigh in on the violence in Egypt. During that period, I felt that it was an opportune moment for these various stakeholders to discuss the situation, which had caused the disruption of the entire country’s travel and tourism industry.
Six people contributed to that editions including United Nations World Tourism Organization Secretary General Taleb Rifai, World Travel & Tourism Council’s president and CEO David Scowsill gave the top-level public and private perspectives, respectively. Geoffrey Lipmann of the International Coalition of Tourism Partners as well as two of eTN’s crisis and risk management experts, David Beirman and David Tarlow.
Below are the links to their respective articles: