Egypt’s Minister of Tourism Yehia Rashed speaks to AMEinfo on the sidelines of Arabian Travel Market held in Dubai last week.
Q: I remember a few of your comments last year that you were working very hard to bring back the tourist numbers of 2010. How did 2016 go?
A: I think 2016 witnessed a lot of events as you know. The tourism industry was under attack by all means by the terrorists. However, I think we managed to recover, in particular in the last quarter of 2016 and to build up for 2017. The 1st quarter of 2017 represents a very decent growth versus the year before and I think it is, if you build it all together, a start of rebooting business again. So we consider that, looking at the 1st quarter results, we will be able to have a decent overall year in 2017.
Q: Do you have any particular figures for 2016 and 2017?
A: I don’t think it is time to predict what the number is going to be, but I think it is very important to understand that the recovery starts step by step.
Q: Any numbers for 2016? How many tourists, and how much income generated?
A: I don’t think this is time to share all the numbers but you know 2016 in general was a tough year.
Q: Security and stability issues still continue to irk Egypt. What are your plans to make the country attractive to tourists?
A: Security all over the world is the number 1 element to recover tourism. The Egyptian government has done quite a lot to recover the business and we look forward to continue our regular work into recovering the businesses.
Q: As I know, Egypt has been spending towards stepping up security in airports. Are you doing anything in addition to it?
A: We are trying to ensure that security is actually in place in airports and hotels using all the measures and the steps to take care of clients. Security is a continuous and regular work that actually never ends or never stops. Or never slow down even.
Q: You have been trying to revive tourism, the country’s cash cow sector. But at the same time, I think you have some diplomatic issues within the MENA region itself, for example with Saudi Arabia. Aren’t they negatively impacting tourist arrivals from within the region?
A: I don’t know what you’re referring to but you know there is no diplomatic issue whatsoever.
Q: Over the disputed islands of Tiran and Sanafir?
A: No. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was in Saudi Arabia yesterday . We continue to strengthen and enhance our Arabian relationship and our African relationship and it is a continuous work. I think that we should understand the regional role that Egypt plays to enhance security and safety within the region.
Q: What are the top source markets for Egypt at the moment?
A: Number 1 source market is Germany, number 2 is Saudi Arabia.
Q: But Russia used to be one of the top source markets?
Q: But after the 2015 incident in which a Russian passenger flight was shot down in Sinai, Russian tourists have not visited Egypt. When are you seeing their return?
A: Well there is no such date but we are hoping to recover this shortly.
Q: Recently the Egyptian Pound was devaluated. What was the outcome of it? Has that had any impact on tourism as the currency became inexpensive for foreigners?
A: Only positive effects and it has helped to recover the business in a positive manner.
Q: Cairo is one of the affected airports by the electronics ban by the US and the UK. How did it affect Egypt?
A: No effect whatsoever.
Q: But many airlines such as Emirates have reported falling growth?
A: There’s no impact.
Q: Don’t you think such measures are not in line with free trade agreements?
A: Well, whatever is for the safety of the human being, everybody should endorse.
Q: Finally, ministers and officials in your government try to reach out to the media whenever you go out of your country. But the world believes that when in Egypt your government is hostile to the media. What is your comment on that?
A: My comment is: this is nonsense. You know this is absolutely wrong. I don’t know where you bring this from. I think there is freedom of speech, freedom of expressing political views and social views. I think there is democracy and freedom of speech everywhere in Egypt.