Tourism in Egypt has for long contributed greatly to the country’s GDP with revenues amounting to $US 12.5 billion at its highest in 2010. However, the tourism industry -being one of the most sensitive sectors- has been influenced greatly in the recent years by political turmoil, taking a deep plunge to its lowest at $US 5.9 billion in 2013. As the state continues to battle various forms of “terrorism”, the industry’s revenue continues to waver.
Hoping to reduce the impact of political unrest and how the mainstream media covers it, several awareness campaigns have been launched over the years, reminding Egyptian and foreign travelers alike of the diverse beauty Egypt has to offer. Nonetheless, such campaigns remain solely reliant on social media and billboards, often overlooking the importance of executing such calls on the ground.
“In Egypt, we are famous for spending millions on campaigns that don’t relate to reality. It’s not entirely valid because you can’t create a brand or send a message when there is no reflection on the ground,” says Omar Samra, Egyptian adventurer, mountaineer and founder of the adventure travel agency Wild Guanabana.
Moving beyond words and void advertisement, Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper (AMAY) launched the #Discover_Egypt campaign in December 2015 where journalists and other members from the institution are joined by public figures and influencers from all walks of life for a grand tour that explores underrated and overlooked places and activities across the country.
“Even before the launch of #ThisIsEgypt, AMAY had started working on a campaign that aims to boost and promote tourism in Egypt,” says Deena Samir, marketing manager at AMAY. “However, #Discover_Egypt revolves around active participation on our end rather than solely using a hashtag.”
Unlike advertising campaigns that only accentuate the bright side, #Discover_Egypt ventures farther into acknowledging the negativities and inviting people to actively participate in solving them.
In collaboration with Wild Guanabana and UNDP Egypt, #Discover_Egypt took its first active steps by leading a clean-up at the Wadi Degla protectorate in Cairo. Within a limited space of less than two kilometers, the group of volunteers gathered over 100 trash bags.
“We chose Wadi Degla protectorate in particular because it’s the closest to Cairo, so it’s the worst in terms of how badly affected it is,” says Samra. “If you go to places like St Catherine’s for instance, yes there is trash, but it’s much less and it’s only limited to places closest to the town itself.”
However, despite the protectorate being the most proximate to Egypt’s biggest and most populous city, “most people didn’t even know there was a protectorate in Cairo,” Samir exclaimed. “There is a huge awareness gap when it comes to most Egyptians’ knowledge of their own country.
“Even though domestic tourism does not generate as much revenue as inbound tourism, it is important to start by educating Egyptians about their own country. When they are more aware of their country’s beauty, they will naturally spread a positive image about it in turn,” added Samir.
The awareness gap is an issue that similarly hit home with Samra as well. “Despite the positivity of the initiative, we still got negative feedback such as people mockingly commenting that we’re cleaning the desert, and that we should clean up the city first,” adds Samra.
Yet, as important as it is to acknowledge the negative aspects of reality and invite the community to be active participants in solving them, #Discover_Egypt is also keen on highlighting the beauty of Egypt that is often overlooked in the midst of the mainstream, traditional campaigning for tourism.
“To begin with, we are visiting places where the numbers of visitors have shrunk,” says Samir. “That’s why our first travel experience was in St Catherine. Afterwards, we plan to visit more places across Sinai.”
However, the campaign does not solely stop at promoting places, but also extends to promoting activities as well.
“When we went to St Catherine, we were trying to highlight a branch of tourism that is relatively overlooked,” says Samra. “We have amazing natural resources that should be utilized in a better way for eco-tourism and sustainable tourism.”
“Tourism that revolves around activities like hiking is in essence low impact; however the impact on those who venture into the experience is huge,” the adventurer adds. “Even though all those who joined the hike were Egyptians, they still talked about how it was transformational. Imagine how it would impact someone who comes from a different part of the world with different topography.”
Adding to Sinai’s rich topography and the activities it offers, it also has historical and Biblical significance as well. Furthermore, the Bedouin culture in Sinai is one of depth and richness that people from all over the world are willing to travel and be part of.
Nonetheless, despite the various initiatives which promote adventure travel, religious travel, meditative travel and more, Samra believes that the traditional means of promoting tourism remains impeding for the overall advancement of the industry.
“Because we’re focusing on the low value, cheap traditional tourism, we’re only attracting the wrong kind of tourists who opt for the all-inclusive packages and don’t spend any money outside their resorts or hotels,” he points out. “The general economy, the shop owners or taxi driver and so on, they don’t reap the fruits of this kind of tourism.
“We need to diversify the kind of tourists who visit Egypt, inviting more educated and sophisticated travelers. These kinds of travelers are more drawn to trips that are more authentic.”
For his part, UNDP country director Ignacio Artaza expressed his genuine enthusiasm for UNDP’s participation in the campaign saying: “We are very proud of the #Discover_Egypt initiative in partnership with Omar Samra and AMAY which sheds the light on Egypt’s beautiful treasures and promotes eco-tourism in Egypt.
“As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we continue supporting environment protection through a unique approach that links conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources to improve the livelihoods of surrounding communities. In partnership with national authorities, NGOs and the private sector, we introduce basic services in those protected areas to make them financially sustainable and and sustain them as first class eco-tourism areas.”
According to Samir, AMAY’s #Discover_Egypt campaign is initially set to continue for six months, during which time the team will tour different places across Egypt, each time inviting over a team that specializes in an activity worth highlighting and spreading.
“Using the hashtags #Discover_Egypt and #اكتشف_مصر, we have also invited our community through our citizen journalism platform ‘Sharek’ to send us pictures of themselves from various places across Egypt that they think are worth promoting,” says Samir.
If you wish to actively take part in the campaign, be sure to use the hashtag, and spread knowledge about Egypt the way people should know it.