Interview: Egypt's tourism recovering, eyeing more Chinese visitors: minister
by Mahmoud Fouly
MINYA, Egypt, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) — Egypt’s tourism is in constant improvement with a growing number of tourists from Western, Arab and Asian states, expecting more Chinese visitors in the coming seasons, Egyptian Tourism Minister Rania al-Mashat said.
“We had a leap in tourism in 2017 and a large boom in 2018, when Egypt was visited by renowned foreign figures,” the minister said in an interview with Xinhua in Minya province south of the capital Cairo.
Tourism brought Egypt about 13 billion U.S. dollars in revenues in 2010 alone, when some 14.7 million tourists visited the country.
After that, the tourism sector has been suffering recession in Egypt over the past few years due to political turmoil and relevant security challenges that resulted from the ouster of two heads of state in 2011 and 2013.
It further deteriorated after a plane crash in Sinai killing over 200 people, mostly Russians, in October 2015, and another tragic crash of an EgyptAir flight killing all 66 people on board, including 15 French nationals, in May 2016.
“Tourism in Egypt started to recover and overcome the consequences of the Russian plane crash, and many countries started to resume its suspended flights to Egyptian airports,” Mashat said.
Moscow has already resumed direct flights to Cairo airport in April 2018 while flights to other Egyptian cities, including the popular Red Sea resorts of Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada, will be resumed “soon,” according to Russian President Vladimir Putin following talks with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi in Russia’s Sochi in October 2018.
“Many other countries increased their flights to Egyptian airports such as Serbia, which has 11 new flights to Hurghada,” the minister emphasized.
On the other hand, Chinese Sichuan Airlines launched a direct flight to Cairo airport for the first time in late October 2018.
Egypt also opened in late January its new Sphinx International Airport, about 12 km away from the Great Pyramids of Giza, linking tourist destinations northern and southern the country via domestic flights.
“In the tourism ministry, we have launched a flight promotion program in early November 2018, which urged some cities abroad to open new airlines with Egyptian airports,” the minister explained.
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Mashat said that her ministry holds regular discussions with tourist companies and travel agents to find out new means of attracting more tourists to the monument-rich most populous Arab country.
The tourism ministry keeps an eye on the archeological discoveries announced by the antiquities ministry to add new destinations to Egypt’s tourism map.
Last week, Mashat attended the announcement of the discovery of more than 40 mummies in ancient tombs in Minya.
“Cultural tourism is very important and unique in Egypt,” Mashat said.
“Inviting foreign diplomats and media channels to such discoveries is meant to introduce and promote new attractions in Egypt to the world, such as Minya province that was not very well-known despite its attractive sites,” she said.
“We have a ‘destination branding’ as part of our promotion program, introducing a variety of tourist destinations in Egypt to foreign visitors in cooperation with the ministry of antiquities,” Mashat added.
The minister said that the upcoming opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in 2020, which will be the biggest in the world to display the artifacts of one civilization, is a key part of the tourism ministry’s promotion plan.
“I would like firstly to wish all Chinese people a happy Chinese New Year, and it was the first time in Egypt to light up Cairo’s Saladin Citadel in red in celebration of the Chinese Spring Festival and the Chinese New Year,” the minister said.
She continued that the tourism ministry eyes more Chinese tourists to visit Egypt in the near future in the light of the fast growing relations between the two countries.
“We attach importance to Chinese tourists and Egypt has a comprehensive strategic partnership with China,” Mashat said, noting that China was among the first countries visited by Sisi after he came to office.
Mashat stressed the fruitful cooperation between her ministry and the Chinese Cultural Center in Cairo in various areas including training and learning from the Chinese expertise.
Among the joint activities is that a group of Chinese chefs will visit Egypt next month to teach their Egyptian counterparts how to cook Chinese dishes, according to the minister.
She noted that the Chinese people have their own means of social media and her ministry will address through their own channels “to make sure the message will reach every Chinese citizen in different regions.”
“We have many other projects of cooperation with the Chinese Cultural Center in Cairo including the promotion of Egyptian tourist destinations in Chinese language,” the minister told Xinhua.