The Egyptian political upheaval is far from over as I write this article now. An assortment of Middle East “experts” around the world have posited a variety of possible scenarios any one of which may or may not be correct.
What is beyond debate is that the current events in Egypt have been catastrophic for the country’s image as a tourism destination. Even though some parts of Egypt such as the Red Sea coast and Sinai have been free of violence, the ability for international tourists to enter or leave Egypt is severely restricted as is the ability to travel within the country.
The political crisis in Egypt is also very likely to impact negatively on tourism to Egypt’s neighbours. Many visitors to Libya enter Libya from Egypt. Many tour operators market combined tours of Egypt in combination with Jordan, Israel and Syria either individually or in multi- country combinations. Traditionally, Egypt has been the core destination of many of these combination tour programs. Consequently, there is real concern that when Egypt is suffering from destination pneumonia, its neighbours are likely to catch the flu.
Certainly some travellers who want to visit multiple Eastern Med destinations may defer their travel plans to any of these destinations until Egypt is perceived as being a safe destination. The ripple effect on neighbouring destinations is a frequent consequence of a crisis situation in one country, especially when this country has contiguous borders as Egypt has.
However, there will ultimately be a resolution and as tourism is by far Egypt’s greatest employer and international income earner the country will be anxious to restore tourism as quickly as possible, As is the case of all destination recovery campaigns, Egypt will require a twin pronged approach focussing on restoring the destination’s reputation to the travelling public and the travel industry.
In a recent eTN article, I raised my concern the Egyptian Tourism Authority’s website was simply ignoring the current problems. There is no place on a national tourism office website in today’s world for a three wise monkey’s approach (see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil) to a tourism crisis such as Egypt’s.
However, there is some good news. The Egyptian Tourism Authority is developing a strategy to re-launch Egyptian tourism after the crisis is over. I know this because the association I founded in Australia is playing a central role at least so far as the Australian source market is concerned. In 2010, well over 80,000 Australians visited Egypt- an all time record. However, over the past 10 days many thousands had to be evacuated, some by the Australian government.
Travel professionals and the industry have to look at the longer term picture. The Eastern Mediterranean Tourism Association (Australia) www.emta.org.au is running four major travel industry product evenings during the first two weeks of March in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. At each of these event the Egyptian Tourism Office is participating as one of the 18 presenters and will use the EMTA evenings to launch their future campaign for encouraging Australian travellers to return. to an audience of some 600 Australian travel agents and the Australian trade press. Another of the EMTA presenter is Australian wholesale tour operator, Bunnik Travel, whose CEO Dennis Bunnik went to Egypt and assisted in the repatriation of over one hundred of his own clients in Egypt and many more stranded Australian travellers who were not his clients. Dennis will relate his first hand experiences in Egypt at the EMTA events.
EMTA, and I as its national secretary, have every confidence that Egyptian tourism will bounce back but it will involve a long confidence rebuilding approach. A top priority will be to address the security concerns so that governments from key source markets will be sufficiently convinced by hard evidence to downgrade the level of security alert on their travel advisories. After that, the many marketing approaches and incentives to restore both trade and traveller confidence can be brought into play.
Dr David Beirman is a Senior Lecturer – Tourism, University of Technology-Sydney. He is the Founder and National Secretary of the Eastern Mediterranean Tourism Association (Australia)