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Cairo Conflict and Tourism

Egyptian Tourism: Quo Vadis?

Geoffrey Lipman, director  Feb 07, 2011

Travel & Tourism is only a bystander when geopolitical and socio-economic shifts of this magnitude take place. We can only batten down the hatches, watch and wait while the drama unfolds and a degree of stability re-emerges. And no one knows what that new equilibrium will looks like or when the dust will settle.

Manmade disaster, natural disasters, pandemics – the cause differs the impact remains the same. Tourism switches off fast, remains out of play memories fade and economies reignite.. And switches on again quickly because the demand doesn’t disappear, nor the fundaments of the product.

Wishful thinking is no use in these situations as 9/11, the Asian Tsunami and Haiti’s earthquake all showed. Cold reality is painful …but it is reality. We know how vibrant the Egyptian product was and how buoyant the demand – from classic and new origin markets. We can’t know what it’s going to be in the short to medium term – in uncertainty of this magnitude.

According to official reports 1 million international tourists have already left Egypt, more than a billions dollars in GDP have evaporated and tens of thousands of jobs across the economy. Plus those engaged outside the country in the supply chain. And how many more as the situation unfolds is anybody’s guess. It doesn’t look very pretty given the prospect of power struggles, negotiations and September elections – even if the street violence disappears.

Then there is the knock on effect. On sector performance and on the economy as a whole. At the risk of being labelled a pessimist, I’ve already urged great caution over the tepid recovery last month in this publication. I’m afraid this only confirms that view – geopolitical uncertainty plus extreme weather, rising food and fuel prices, origin market budget austerity and socio-economic protest suggest that by the middle of the year the overall recovery picture could be much less encouraging.

Finally I confess to a subjective sadness here …not in the big picture impacts – que sera, sera - and it’s hard to express a valid external view on another people’s struggle for democracy when you take it for granted yourself. Sadness in watching the tourism friendly land of eternal sun turned into a no go zone. Sadness in seeing the 24/7 mob images that condition the bookings and the brand positioning. And on a very personal note saying goodbye to a Tourism Minister and team that worked ceaselessly to advance not only his own country’s prosperity but that of the entire Industry. I had the pleasure to work closely with them in UNWTO on global resilience and on the greening of Sharm el Sheikh. They were dedicated and public spirited colleagues.

Of course when the dust settles the country will re-emerge as a leading tourism destination …and there will be a new team, equally committed to rebuilding, rebranding and restoring Egypt’s brilliant product. But for now it’s all sadness and uncertainty.

Egyptian Tourism:  Quo Vadis?
Geoffrey Lipman, director

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