Beach resorts vital to Egypt economy, insists Islamist minister

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A view of the Red Sea beach resort of Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt. Photo – Travelhouseuk.co.uk

Egypt reassured on Tuesday that beach tourism is here to stay, adding that any Islamic investment in the sector would complement but not replace resorts that are part of an industry vital to the nascent democratic nation.

The Muslim Brotherhood-led government is tasked with reviving an industry that accounts for 10% of economic activity of the Mediterranean nation.

Critics of President Mursi’s administration have raised questions over the future of the industry, as Islamists oppose the free mixing of sexes, serving of alcohol, scantly-clad women and prostitution.

Egypt’s tourism relies heavily on beach resorts that include Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada on the Red Sea.

Asked about the future of such resorts, Zaazou – a senior tourism ministry official before taking his new post in the cabinet appointed in August – gave an unequivocal answer.

“It will not be changed. Nothing will affect beach tourism. We are building on, increasing even, the capacities and the services rendered for our clients coming to our beaches,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“The current government, the current president is backing tourism at large. Everybody is aware that beach tourism constitutes 70% of the traffic coming to Egypt. It will continue to do so,” the minister said.

“If there is investment in special kinds of beach tourism for, let’s say, Arab investors or Islamic investors as mentioned before, we are welcoming that on top, not in replacement of the current beach tourism,” he added.

While speaking on the sidelines of a business conference, one of a series initiatives to attract investors and boost growth in an economy struggling to create enough jobs, he assured that the government will promote tourism but admitted that the task of drawing back tourists has been complicated by internationally televised scenes of violent street protests last week over a film that denigrated the Prophet Mohammad.

Zaazou said Egypt aimed to increase the number of visitors from a projected 12 million in 2012 to around 15 million in 2013 — a number that would equal the number of visitors in 2010.

“If we view the tourism industry as a factory, then it is ready for operation tomorrow morning,” he said.

The government aimed to attract 30 million tourists by 2020, he said. By then, he said the industry should be generating $25 billion in revenue per year – double the $12.5 billion it generated in 2010.

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