Lessons From Egypt

Lessons From EgyptLessons From Egypt

Tourism has played a key role in the economic growth of many countries. However, not all countries manage to reap the benefits tourism has to offer; case in point being Kenya. The East African nation has no shortage of tourist attractions, yet it has failed to capitalize on them.

In an article published in the Kenyan daily The Star, Wycliffe Mugo writes about his experience with the prospering Egyptian tourism industry, hoping his native land of Kenya can follow the example of their North African brethren. What follows is an excerpt of Mugo’s article.

I had always seen tourism as a private investment sector (no different from banking or insurance), with the government playing a primarily regulatory role. When visiting Egypt recently, however, I learned otherwise.

What impressed me most in the meetings I attended at which senior technocrats from the Egypt Tourism Authority made presentations and took questions, was how the Egyptian government routinely takes costly proactive steps to support this sector. And especially at those times when Egyptian tourism is threatened by insecurity. There seems to be virtually no limit to the efforts the Egyptian Tourism Authority is willing to make, to ensure that visitors are encouraged to continue coming to Egypt.

A man who served some years back as the tourism authority’s representative in London, spoke of how he would be on the phone with the British Foreign Office daily, to ask what more could be done to ensure that travel advisories were either not imposed at all, or else, imposed only on very specific areas.

He also mentioned elaborate plans for evacuation, details of which were shared with the governments of key source markets, so they could be confident that in the event of another terrorist attack, their citizens would be immediately whisked away to safety.

Then there were subsidies granted to hotel owners to enable them to keep their hotels open even with very low occupancy. And other subsidies granted to foreign airlines, provided they continued to fly to Egypt even with only 50 per cent of the seats taken. All this was done to ensure that those who wanted to come to Egypt even at such difficult times, could do so – and at much lower cost.

The Egyptians understand that the best publicity for countering travel advisories is not official assurances that all is well. Rather, what is required is that you should get people from your tourism source nations to come out and visit your country – even if this can only be done by the government effectively subsidizing their vacations.

They subsequently go back and talk about how safe your country is, contrary to the negative impressions created by reports of terrorist attacks.

Such interventions are, of course, unheard of in Kenya. The essential difference between Kenya and Egypt, is that the Egyptians fully appreciate that tourism is a pillar of their economy; that it is a sector which must be sustained at all costs.

So during difficult times, the government unhesitatingly steps in to provide the subsidies needed to keep tourism investors afloat.

This is done in the knowledge that so long as the tourism establishments remain open, tourism will eventually recover, and this money will return to the state in taxes and other revenues. And of course, millions will remain in employment.