Travel

Chatting with Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism

Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, recently commended by the UN World Tourism Organization for her work, on reforming the country’s travel industry to make it sustainable and involve more women

Recently, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) called on the countries of the region to focus on sustainable tourism through infrastructure, policy reforms and institutional development. Egypt has been for decades a magnet for tourists around the globe. Drawn by the country’s vast heritage and beaches, the country hit a record number of visitors in 2010. Yet the instability caused by the 2011 revolution and the ISIS’s downing in 2015 of a Russian airliner killing all 224 people on board, among other setbacks, brought the sector to its knees. Today, tourism in Egypt is getting back on its feet.

Although the industry is stuck in a legislative framework that has not been revised in about 40 years, tourism in Egypt is responsible for almost 10% of its employment — or 2.5 million jobs — and contributes to nearly 12% of the country’s GDP.

FACTFILE
  • International Tourist
  • Arrivals — 8,157,000 / 15,543,000
  • International Tourism Receipts in USD — $7,775,000 / $27,365,000
  • UNESCO World
  • Heritage sites — 7 / 37

Last year, Rania Al-Mashat, who holds a PhD in International Economics, was appointed Egypt’s Minister of Tourism with the bold mandate to modernise this embattled sector along the lines of the United Nations Global Goals — a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity everywhere by 2030. She speaks about sustainable tourism just as the UN World Tourism Organization commended her for her plans to reform the Egyptian tourism industry.

Chatting with Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism

Around 98% of the tourism industry in Egypt is controlled by private companies operating under the supervision of your Ministry. How are you encouraging firms to follow the sustainability path?

Our Tourism Reform Programme embraces the inclusion of international trends, of which green tourism is a leading feature. For example, when it comes to classifying hotels, we added a ‘green’ category that comprises accommodations like eco-lodges. My Ministry has also introduced a ‘Green Star Hotel’ accreditation, so today 10% of the country’s hotel rooms are green-star compliant. We also encourage lodgings to introduce environmental-friendly policies into their projects as well as investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. All of this is happening as we improve the infrastructure in key tourist areas, like the modernisation of stations for water desalination, sewage treatment and electricity generation.

Youth unemployment in Egypt stands at 32%. Is there a role for tourism to help tackle this issue?

Our youth is one of the key drivers behind the new narrative of tourism in Egypt. For instance, we are advising universities around the country to offer more disciplines related to tourism, such as hospitality, transportation, promotional marketing, gastronomy, Egyptology or cultural preservation. All these fields offer vast employment opportunities. Let’s not forget that the employment multiplier effect of the sector is a whopping 1 to 3: for every direct job in tourism, three other jobs are indirectly created.

Chatting with Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism

The participation of women in Egypt’s workforce is a low 23%. Does your Ministry consider this, as it helps revitalise the sector?

A key Global Goal is gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. One of our priorities is to make sure that the working environment in hotels and other establishments is more women-friendly. This way, the sector not only becomes better suited for the ones already employed in the industry, but also encourages more women to work in it. We are also increasing the number of women in every training course offered, [like the ones for startups]. Moreover, we run awareness campaigns (eg. with female role models) to combat sexual harassment, as well as a programme to empower women in the workplace.

As Egypt’s Tourism Reform Programme characterises it, “sustainable tourism is not just about places but about people in places”.

How can the economic gains generated by the country’s international tourism — $12 billion last year — benefit host communities, instead of entirely falling to large corporations?

As illustrated in our promotional campaigns, our aim is that tourists, rather than just taking pictures or paying a fee to visit a museum or venue, also buy handicrafts, join a locally-run workshop, hire a resident guide, try regional cuisine, or take local transport. It is a win-win: while visitors directly support local communities, their trip is enriched with a more authentic experience. This is the reason why our flagship campaign is called Experience Egypt.

Following the recent terrorist attack in Cairo, this interview could not end without asking about the security situation. Is Egypt today safe for visitors?

In April 2019, Egypt was awarded the World Travel & Tourism (WTTC) Global Champion Award for promoting tourism resilience. It is important to not be complacent when it comes to the safety of our guests. Therefore, we are continually reviewing — and when and where appropriate, enhancing — our security measures. The award from the WTTC recognises that when an incident occurs, we are quick to respond to any issue in a professional way.

The writer is a freelance journalist covering the United Nations from New York

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 4:53:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/chatting-with-rania-al-mashat-egypts-minister-of-tourism/article27283805.ece

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