Monday, June 05, 2006

“Tourism Benefits Everyone”

The Ministry of Tourism kicks off a public awareness campaign.

IT’S A PRETTY SLICK commercial: An uplifting Arabian tune plays as happy taxi drivers polish their gleaming vehicles, bus drivers straighten their ties, hotel staff arrange flowers on restaurant tables — even the hagga baking flatbread kneads the dough with a smile.
But when the slogan “Tourism Benefits Everyone” flashes across the TV at the end of the three-minute spot, you have to wonder if this isn’t the most self-evident music video in Egyptian history.
The Ministry of Tourism doesn’t think so. Yes, millions of tourists visit Egypt every year, but in studies the ministry commissioned in recent years, visitors reported negative impressions about their interactions with Egyptians, resulting in a low rate of repeat visits.
Left unaddressed, this image problem could have serious repercussions for the country’s tourism industry.
“A single negative experience can affect a visitor’s decision to return to a destination. Word of mouth is so powerful; it can overshadow even the best promotional efforts,” says Randa Mustafa, an internal communications and public-awareness consultant for the Ministry of Tourism. “Moreover, as competition becomes more fierce in the global tourism arena, it is perhaps quality in service delivery, rather than the diversity or allure of the destination itself, which will determine who will be able to draw visitors back.”
According to Mustafa, the Ministry of Tourism does not have an estimate of the percent of repeat visitors.
To meet this challenge, the Nazif government launched a five-year National Tourism Awareness Project (NTAP) in late April to promote attitudes and behaviors that foster a more welcoming environment for tourists.
“The findings of the research showed that negative ratings were attached to several points of contact with tourists, ranging from the reception at the airport to taxis, and unfavorable experiences at various tourist sites,” says Mustafa.
Egyptian Tourism Authority Chairman Ahmed El-Khadem elaborates: “By analyzing these complaints, we found that most of the negative attitudes generally came from contact with the less educated, the less socially conscious.”
Both El-Khadem and Mustafa agree that many Egyptians don’t draw causal links between tourism, the economy and, in turn, their own livelihoods.
In 2005, Egypt received a record-high 8.6 million tourists who spent a total of 85.2 million tourist nights, accounting for $6.8 billion in revenues. The need for the average citizen to understand the significance of these numbers is the essence of the awareness program, which includes a multimedia campaign, a research component and a training program.
The three-part media campaign has already hit the airwaves. The first phase focuses on how many jobs tourism creates and how it factors into our daily lives.
“Tourism is the number-one provider of jobs worldwide,” Mustafa says. “In fact, every 1 million additional tourists Egypt receives create 200,000 new direct and indirect jobs. Tourism also holds forward and backward linkages to 70 different industries.”