Transforming Egypt

Keeping with the theme of holding its conferences in “transformational” or emerging destinations, the American Tourism Society’s Annual Fall Conference was held in Cairo in a country that has shown significant tourism growth over the past several years.

Dr. Zahi Hawass

Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, shared his expertise at the American Tourism Society Conference

“Over the past 25 years, Egypt has built a reputation as one of the leading travel destinations in the world,” said H.E. Mohamed Zoheir Garana, minister of tourism for Egypt. “Together, the Egyptian Government and private sector have worked hard to develop tourism as one of the key components of the economy because we truly believe in the power of tourism.”

Egypt’s tourism industry is growing in leaps and bounds, explained Garana at this year’s conference, held at the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah. By the end of 2008, Egypt will have more than 211,000 rooms, while more than 156,000 rooms are under construction. Egypt’s airports reach international standards of quality and the country is experiencing major upgrades in its ports, roads and railway networks. In Cairo, a new terminal is under construction at the international airport.

In 2007, more than 11.1 million tourists visited Egypt, a 20 percent growth over 2006. Approximately $1.5 billion in revenue was generated last year from tourism, or about 19 cents of every dollar that comes through Egypt.

The American market, however, makes up a small percentage of those incoming tourists. In 2007, 278,000 Americans visited Egypt, making the U.S. Egypt’s 10th largest market. The 2007 numbers reflect a 20 percent growth over the 2006 U.S. tourism numbers.

“We can do much better,” said Garana.

aqsunqur mosque

The Aqsunqur Mosque— otherwise called the Blue Mosque— in Cairo

The minister said Americans have always been interested in Egypt’s culture and heritage. When Egypt began developing new leisure areas on the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts, new quotas were developed and the American market remained confined to the heritage sites.

“The media has a very big effect on how [Americans] perceive the country,” Garana said. “And a lot of Americans, even my friends, when they come, they say, ‘You’re featured differently. You’re dangerous. You’re in a dangerous region.’…This is one of the reasons we did not actually have our fair share of the American market.” However, an American market growth of 20 percent in the past two years has shown that these feelings are dissipating. Garana still expects a slowdown in 2009 due to the global recession.

“In fact, with an eye on the future, we are currently working with the finest international expertise to develop a sustainable tourism development plan, which will further identify ways to maximize our potential, increase our market share and continue to develop our product,” said the minister.

So, what is a “transformational” destination, according to the American Tourism Society?

“We use this word to describe maybe a country, maybe a state, maybe a district, maybe a big city, that is, in the opinion of the ATS membership, an area that is kind of the opposite of France—not a lot of Americans, not a lot of Europeans, not a lot of Asians are going to these destinations,” said ATS president and executive VP of External Affairs for Tauck World Discovery Phil Otterson.

The ATS is also looking at future opportunities in Kosovo and the adjoining countries of Albania and Montenegro.

Abu Simble Temple

The Abu Simble Temple in Abu Simble, Egypt

Approximately 50 students from Helwan University in Cairo, 60 local tourism professionals and 56 delegates attended the four-day ATS conference. Delegates were treated to sightseeing tours of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the Mosque of Muhammad Ali and the Pyramids, all organized by Wings Tours and Nile Cruises.

Part of the American Tourism Society’s new strategic plan, developed in 2006 to refashion the organization’s 17-year-old mission statement, was the formalization of a Tourism College. This year, the ATS enhanced its Tourism College with a one-day workshop presentation held at Helwan University. Approximately 400 students from Helwan’s Tourism and Hospitality program attended the three workshops, which were taught by ATS members. The workshop topics were chosen by the university.

The ATS has always been involved in education, said Otterson, but the new plan is to continue that educational aspect by “talking with local people about what’s going to capture the American market, and bring together local professionals and tourism students.”

The conference included educational panels with U.S. and Canadian tour operators, as well as a keynote address by Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and Bruce Beckham, executive director of Tourism Cares.

The conference concluded with a five-night Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor aboard a brand-new Wings Tours and Nile Cruises ship, the M/S Tamr Henna.

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