Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Post-Revolution Tourism In Egypt: A Look Into A Turbulent Future.
This paper looks first at Egypt's tourism industry as pertains to the countries revenue, investment, infrastructure, and trends prior to the first of the year, 2011. This portrait of Egypt's tourism industry was shown to be a 'house of cards' by the eighteen day revolution of January 25th. Terrorism and/or political turmoil, presents major challenges to tourism industries despite the economic strength of the country, despite marketing efforts.(Sönmez, 1998, p.1) To understand what effect the Egyptian revolution's had on the tourism industry, I will focus on the capitol of Cairo, the epicenter of the January 25th revolution, as well as Sharm el-Sheikh, the deposed presidents place of refuge. Both of the areas of focus play crucial roles in the Egyptian revolution as well as the Egyptian tourism industry. Looking for historical parallels will provide a point of reference for the current situation. Finally, I will provide suggestions, rather “Dos & Don'ts”, in order that post-revolution Egypt may capitalize on what I call “Liberation Euphoria”.
Egypt, over the last two months, has come to see historic events that culminated in the overthrow of of the thirty year dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Many things have changed for one of the world's most successful tourist destination following the eighteen day revolution that emptied hotels from Cairo, to the upper class Sharm el-Sheikh tourist destination in the Sinai Peninsula. Popular destinations like the Pyramids and the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, commonly known as the Egyptian Museum, were closed during the duration of the revolution. The revolution, also known as “April 6th” by the organizers, disproved most that was thought about the Middle-East by western intelligentsia. As one of the events more prominent organizers, “Sandmonkey”, put it: “Sorry. Any undergrad Junior International Affairs or middle-eastern studies student will tell you that it's a tad more complicated than that,”... 'but it's not'. (Salem, 2011) What was claimed to have been known about Egypt has been disproved by the January 25th revolution. Egypt has entered uncharted territory.
Now that the time of the initial revolution has passed, what does the future hold for Egypt’s tourism industry? How will the country's tourism industry recover in light of the Military Council decisions, the arrest of Mubarak, the post revolution “liberation euphoria”. As the situation changes day to day in Egyptian politics, this project will attempt to make sense out of the multiple factors that effect Egypt's tourism industry in order to provide a reasonable estimation of its future.
History of the tourism industry in Egypt:
Egypt has many historical attractions that have fueled its tourism industry to the point that it is one of the worlds leading tourist destinations. Tourism has also helped fund the economy of Egypt, earning $11 billion dollars in 2009 from its tourism industry, according to the Tourism Ministry. (Dziadosz, 2011) With well known destinations like the Pyramids, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Great Sphinx, the Abu Simbel temples, the Karnak Temple Complex and the Valley of the Kings, it is not hard to see why millions of people flock to Egypt each year. However, the focus of this report are the main tourist destinations of Cairo (the capitol), and Sharm el-Sheikh (the Red Sea beach resort).
Cairo, Egypt's capitol city, also Egypt's primary tourist destination is located as a historic hub for antiquity tourism. Many of the previously listed destinations are reached only after flying into Cairo and staying at one of the many hotels there. As a result, much of Egypt's tourist industry is directly affected by events or decisions made in Cairo. In To Make Tourism an Economic Force Of Development, Dr. Adel Rady states that Egypt, on average, has 5.5 million visitors with 33 million paid bed nights. That “Egypt['s] famous historical heritage sites have enabled the Egyptians to carry out simple market promotion for a long time.” (Rady, 2002, p.1)
Sharm el-Sheikh is one of Egypt's primary tourist destinations outside of Cairo. In 2008, then President Hosni Mubarak choose this rather remote destination on the Red Sea to host the “World Economic Forum”, which he spoke at as an attempt to spread Sharm el-Sheikh's notoriety among foreign investors. (World Economic Forum, 2008) To add to the area's notoriety; the GCSE Leisure and Tourism report in 2009 said “Sharm el-Sheikh will be developed. [Now] that local businesses people and residents of the towns around such as Dahab, Habada, Nabq and Om el-Sid have access” to an airport outside of Cairo, the only in the region. (Teacher Resource Bank) Recently, developers have put it in many high class resorts, transforming this popular beach resort on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula into a thriving tourist destination.
Sharm el-Sheikh also was the place deposed President Mubarak took refuge in before being arrested by the Egyptian Military Counsel. The former president stayed at in the resort town for over a month, creating much name recognition amongst the international audience. “Dark tourism”prospects mixed with a notoriety for being a luxurious destination.
Events of January 25th and the effects upon the tourism industry:
The recent wave of revolution that took the region by storm ,shook Egypt's tourism industry to the core. The unrest caught many authorities off guard, their reaction effectively shut down much of the countries tourist destinations, while simultaneously shutting down the economy of Egypt. Following the revolution, between January 27th and March 23rd , the Egyptian stock market plunged 10%. (Werr , 2011) This plunge will undoubtedly have an effect on Egypt's tourism industry in the future, as stock market crashes have lingering effects, particularly when the economy is as intertwined with the tourism industry as it is in Egypt. Amr Elezabi of the Egypt Tourist Authority(ETA) said that “tourism represents 11% of the [gross domestic product]”... that directly and indirectly, there are 2.5 million people working in tourist industry.” The ETA estimates that the industry has been losing $25 million dollars per day since the 1st of February. (Baran, 2011) However, the fall in the number of visitors following the revolution is probably a short term effect, assuming that stability is restored.
More influential than the unrest caused by protests on potential tourists, was the reaction of the security forces of the deposed dictator. Attempts to quill protests had a tremendous effects on the tourism industry and on potential visitors world wide through the images of police brutality broadcasted to the world via satellite news stations. State authorities shut down of the internet compounded fear of the security forces that the world was previously told were responsible for the safety of the people.
Enforced curfews shut down Cairo’s airport, for days the only activity at the airport was departures, mainly of tourists that had been caught in the conflict. These state sponsored acts that aimed to extend control, took much the same effect on the tourism industries as an act of terrorism. For an example of how political unrest results in much the same effects as terrorism, I turn to Egypt's westward neighbor, Libya. in 1986, a year after Lockerbie bombing and as Ronald Reagan was engaging Muammar al-Gaddafi militarily, nearly two million Americans changed their foreign travel plans in fear of similar terrorist attack. (Sönme, 1998, p.1) However, there exist some key differences, as well as similarities, between the January 25th Revolution in Egypt and the resulting unrest, and that of Libya in 1986. This requires a more broad understanding of government's general reaction to political unrest, terrorism, general instability.
In the January 25th revolution, crack-downs on protesters in Tahrir Square, the shutting off of the internet, the revoking of Al Jazeera’s license to broadcast, the use of propaganda, etc., were all aimed at sending a message to the Egyptian people.(2011) Simultaneously, the Egyptian authorities attempted to shield the reality of the events on the ground from the eyes of the world. As it happened, theses attempts towards censorship made by the Egyptian Ministry of Information, Egyptian State Security Investigations and Egyptian Interior Ministry had the opposite effect. In a statement made by secretary-general Jean-François Julliard of the internationally renown group Reporters Without Borders explained the effects of Egypt's attempted censorship of Al Jazeera; “By banning Al Jazeera, the government is trying to limit the circulation of TV footage of the six-day-old wave of protests... [which had] the exact of opposite [effect,] increas[ing the] freedom sought by the Egyptian population.”(2011) Moreover, the Mubarak regime's failed attempt at censoring the events taking place in Egypt had the exact opposite on international opinion that the regime desired. The world started to take notice of the “Arab Spring” after the desperate reactions by state security, millions of viewers the world over started to flock to the feed of Al Jazeera specifically.
The world watched live as the Egyptian Security forces indiscriminately lobbed US made tear gas canisters across the 6th of October bridge that crosses the Nile river, connecting the Museum of Antiquities & Tahrir Square to downtown Egypt. Some of these canisters even struck the Ramsis Hilton Hotel, which had become a refuge for tourists that did not make it out of Egypt before unrest began. For the duration of the eighteen day protests, Cairo remained shutdown.
After Mubarak and the National Democratic Party were deposed, Egyptians seemed to be fully aware of the potential damage to Egypt's economy if the tourism industry were to go into a remission. In a statement by the Egyptian Tourist Authority; “Tourists are safe in Egypt In regard to the latest events in Egypt that started on January 25th 2011, it is worth mentioning that Egypt’s guests at any of the tourism destinations were entirely safe from any danger or harassment.” (2011) However, the effects of past terrorist acts in Egypt.: The 1996 terrorist attack on Greek tourists outside the Cairo Hotel, the 1997 'Luxor Massacre', the 2004 bombing in the Sinai peninsula, the 2005 terrorist attacks in Cairo & Sharm el-Sheikh, the 2010 bombing of a Christian church in Alexandria, plus various plane hijacking in the region – were done to send a message to a foreign audience. Despite the polar difference between Mubarak's regime and terrorist organizations intentions, the net result is identical.
The good thing is that authoritarian regimes are incredibly simple, and can be generalized. Dr. Noam Chomsky speaking about authoritarian systems responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York city's World Trade Centers with an explanation that helps relate various events and the State's response:
“Take a look around the world, what are called the more democratic societies, instituted mechanisms of control over their populations... & this was completely predictable – This happens after anything, even after a earthquake – Power systems will exploit it to expand their own power over their primary enemies. Which are their domestic enemies.” (2007)
As Professor Chomsky explains, the states reaction is much the same after a political uprising as it would a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. By consequence, the impressions made upon 3rd party spectators, such as tourists, can also be generalized. Bringing this idea back to Egypt, the political eighteen day ousting of Hossni Mubarak from office would have an effect in a similar pattern to that of proportional terrorist attack. While 'proportionality' is impossible to quantify, the impact upon the tourist industry can be subdivided into categories: regional, national, international. The January 25th revolution obviously has had international impacts upon the tourist industry, primarily in regards to the opinion of the international community. However, many still ask is Egypt safe to visit?
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom released it's official “Egyptian Travel Advice”, advising that: “There is a high threat from terrorism in Egypt. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in public places frequented by expatriates and foreign travelers, such as hotels and restaurants” (current through May first 2011). Moreover, advice is posted that “you stay away from demonstrations on Tahrir Square and follow the news on the television and radio.”(British Embassy, 2011) The United Kingdom's release is not unique, other nations have discouraged their that are potentially traveling to Egypt, specifically that they should not be near Tahrir Square and the revolution. Essentially treating the site of the revolution as they would that a site of a past terrorist attack on tourists. These first world governments who are responsible for majority of tourism worldwide, have the main concern of avoiding any potentially damaging international conflict that might have a resonating effect at home. One word must also be said on the advice given by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office advising tourist to listen and “follow the news on the television and radio.” The Egyptian State broadcasting system, runs all domestic news out of the State TV headquarters in Cairo, and have a history inaccurate reporting with large amounts of State bias.
The favoring of the Egyptian state security forces is nothing new for the first-world governments, as the protection of foreign tourists' were the Egyptian Tourism Ministry's primary concern. However, the youth of January 25th revolution was repeatedly attacked by these same security personnel. Running street battles carried on for days, live on satellite television, broadcasting an image of state security that international audiences were mainly unaware of.
Here lies the difficulty that Egypt is facing when determining how to attract future visitors; first-world governments are still promoting the old Egypt. Creating a contrast in the marketing of post-revolution Egypt with the ways in which tourism was orchestrated in the past. The revolution set out to make changes for the better, but with over 10% of it's economy relying on tourism, Egypt must be conscience of the impression's of the international community. It is therefor essential for Egyptian tourist authorities to press for stability to return to Egypt, while simultaneously promoting the January 25th revolution.
Following are my “Dos & Don'ts” for how the Egyptian authorities might best be able to revive the tourism industry, preserve the revolution, and stabilize the region.
Dos and Don'ts for Post-revolution Egypt's tourist industries:
DO: Promote the link between the January 25th Revolution & Egypt's history.
One of Egypt's primary assets is its long rooted historical sites, with many historical sites that have not changed for Egypt's tourist industry to promote. The events that took place had little effect on the historical significance or condition of Egyptian antiquities. A few isolated incidents did take place at the Cairo Museum. However ,“Egyptian citizens tried to prevent” the defacing of historical sites & items as the chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, told Reuters. (2011)
If the Egyptian tourism ministry, along with the tourist resorts and travel agents, were to embrace the revolution and challenge the perception that State security is responsible for a safe atmosphere that tourists enjoy -- it would promote both a safe atmosphere as well as a land of recent historical significance.
Don't let wild-political instability return to Cairo.
Egypt's tourism industry will return to the country as long as potential tourists' feel that it is safe to do so. While both the youth responsible for the revolution, and elements of the Egyptian government responsible for the tourist industry, will make statements that the country is safe. Until both sides take serious steps to move the political situation forward, countries like the UK will advise tourists against traveling or restricting destinations.
DON'T get dragged into the situation in Libya unless it is by your own intention.
The only reason for Egypt, from a strategic standpoint, would want to extent their role in Libya would be to support the National Transitional Counsel of Benghazi and secure relations with the “rebels” before Col. Gaddafi falls from power. The move would hurt Egypt further in the short term
but possibly could create a very profitable strip of “free countries” on the Mediterranean for development in the future. The reasoning in supporting the National Transitional Counsel lies in the perception of the region's stability by first-world countries, who are currently engaged with Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi. The situation in Libya has already spilled over into Tunisia with open engagements between the Tunisian Military and Col. Gaddafi's forces.* In Egypt, Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon was assaulted in Tahrir Square by a mob of pro-Gaddafi supporters after the U.N. passed resolution 1973. Another major concern; 200,000 refugees have fled Libya since the beginning of the conflict. Refugees create many economic challenges outside of the effects upon tourism.(Rogin, 2011) There is no sign that Col. Gaddafi will stop his despotic campaign against the “February 17th” revolution in Libya, a movement very similar to that of January 25th in Egypt. Moreover, The stability of the region is intertwined such that Egypt will be hard pressed to play an idle observer and recover on it's own.
DO keep the 30 year peace with Israel such that Sharm el-Sheikh and the Sinai Peninsula can be further developed.
The peace is essential to the majority of the West's tourists and their decision to visit Egypt. If the peace between Israel and Egypt can be built upon, then there is potential for the Gaza Strip to open it's Egyptian boarders. The reverse, a breach in the Camp David Accords or any dismissal of the treaty, would have decimating effects on the Egyptian tourism industry.
Don' t Fear Tahrir Square and the damage caused during protests.
Tahrir Square has gained name recognition from the January 25th revolution, the center of the Egyptian youth movement. Tahrir caries the literal meaning “liberation”, the exact message millions of viewers world wide who witnessed the revolution. However, recent events continue to demonstrate the country's instability to the world, prolonging effect on the decline in visitors to Egypt.
*The information on the engagements across the Tunisian Wizan border crossing with Libya is still coming out and are unclear. I place this information on my own reporting of the area on April 29th and 30th , 2011.
Al Jazeera official statement. (2011). “Egypt shuts down Al Jazeera bureau”. Al Jazeera English. Retrieved from: http://t.co/0rqRfPH
Baran, M. (Interviewer) and Elezabi, A. (Interviewee). (2011). “Amr Elezabi, Egypt Tourist Authority”. Travelweekly.com. Retrieved from: http://www.almanacmag.com/reviews-egypt/218-amr-elezabi- egypt-tourist-authority.html
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Chomsky, N. (2007). Video relating to the effects of September the Eleventh terrorist attacks around the world. Retrieved fromYouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwZ-vIaW6Bc
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