Egypt authorities admit mistakes but aim for 20 million visitors by 2020
Egypt’s tourism chief admits “we have made our share of mistakes” as he announces a three-year delay to the new Grand Egyptian Museum and a need for hygiene training on Nile cruises
Khaled Ramy, Egypt's minister of tourism, said that “we failed to tell people about the positive things about Egypt” over the past four years, but confirmed plans to attract 20 million annual visitors by 2020, up from 9.8 million in 2014.
His ambitious plans to bolster the Egyptian tourism industry, which has suffered as a result of domestic political unrest and terrorist attacks, as well as violence in neighbouring Libya, ride on a new advertising campaign with a “six zero” budget, due to be launched in August.
But he announced that the Grand Egyptian Museum, a large museum near the Giza pyramids that was due to open at the end of this year, would not be ready until 2018, because of a lack of money.
“We need funding. We will be fundraising in the next few months, but $1.2 billion (£779m) is needed to finish the museum,” he said.
A tweet purportedly showing the Grand Egyptian Museum site last week.
He said that although most of the concrete shell has been finished, half of the rest of the museum remains incomplete.
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The much-feted project, designed to ease pressure on the National Museum in Cairo by housing 100,000 objects, began in 2002, when the former president Hosni Mubarak laid the first foundation stone, but since then progress has stalled. Mr Ramy said that the museum would not open until higher income from tourism could contribute to its funding.
Egyptian authorities are hoping to attract more visitors to Aswan (Photo: AP)
Speaking in London, Mr Ramy said that tourism authorities hope to draw visitors back to the Nile valley, where hotel occupancy in Luxor, renowned for the temple complex at Karnak, stood at 20 per cent last month. Mr Ramy, who has been in his post since March, said he is “working very hard” on attracting visitors to the city, but said, “I really don’t know what happened [to arrivals]. Have tourists changed?”
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The British Foreign Office currently considers the Nile valley suitable for visitors, but advises against all but essential travel to the Sinai peninsula outside Sharm el-Sheikh, putting the Red Sea resort towns of Taba, Nuweiba and Dahab off limits to ordinary travellers. Taba was the scene of a terrorist attack in February 2014, in which three South Korean tourists and an Egyptian driver were killed.
Mr Ramy insisted that security in Sharm el-Sheikh was “very high” and that it may only be a “matter of time” before foreign travel advisories changed. He pointed to the relaxation in France’s stance towards Taba after a meeting between French and Egyptian ministers.
Lake Nasser: the Foreign Office currently has no advisories against the Nile Valley (Photo: AP)
He did not appear to consider the target of 20 million visitors by 2020 overly ambitious, despite a significant drop in tourist numbers from their 2010 peak of 14.7 million. The aim is to attract more visitors from the Far East, while also encouraging more people from the UK, Egypt’s second biggest market after Russia. The number of UK tourists to Egypt fell from 1.5 million in 2010 to 900,000 last year, as travellers eschewed its beaches and ancient sites for destinations they considered more secure.
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The Egyptian Tourism Ministry is also attempting to improve training around food hygiene and quality on Nile cruise boats. Mr Ramy reported that Abta, the Association of British Travel Agents, would be visiting Egypt in the coming weeks for food inspections. “We need to train them again [boat and hotel operators] , and tell them every few weeks.” He said that non-compliant hotels and boats would be shut down: “Quality is very important to us and those who don’t comply will stop operating.” He also announced plans to build three “state-of-the-art” docking facilities at Abu Simbel and Aswan to help with the maintenance of tourist boats.
The Tourism Minister has plans for a boat docking station near Abu Simbel. (Photo: AP)
Following an embarrassing U-turn earlier this year, in which Egyptian authorities were forced to rescind announcements to end visas on arrival for independent travellers, Mr Ramy said that no changes would be made to visa arrangements until an e-visa system is introduced. He said that this would happen in 8-10 months’ time, which would be followed by a trial period of 3-4 months before being rolled out for all visitors.