Egyptian Tourism Minister Zoheir Garranah said on Friday that Egypt welcomes more tourists from China to make a comparison between the two great ancient civilizations.
"What I would like to say is, such a great nation like China ( with) such a great ancient civilization, please come to Egypt and make a comparison," Garranah told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
PREPARING FOR MORE CHINESE TOURISTS
Garranah, one of several businessman-turned ministers in the reform-minded cabinet, is eager to attract more foreigners to visit his country, including Chinese.
As China's economy continues to boom and people get richer, more Chinese are beginning to travel abroad, which Garranah sees as a good opportunity for Egypt's tourism.
China listed Egypt as a country of destination for Chinese tourists in May of 2002, thus opening the door for a large inflow of Chinese tourists into Egypt.
According to Garranah, some 35,000 Chinese tourists came to Egypt in 2005. In the first nine months of 2006, 34,813 Chinese tourists visited Egypt, jumping by 39 percent.
"We expect some 65,000 Chinese tourists to visit Egypt for the whole year," he said, adding these figures are quite low but annual growth rate is high.
The Chinese market is very important with high potential to be tapped, and Egypt has to be prepared to accommodate more Chinese tourists, said Garranah, who ran a big tour company group before becoming the tourism minister in December of 2005.
To lure more Chinese tourists, Garranah said that his ministry has been working to provide special services to Chinese. "It is very important to ensure that we have more Chinese-speaking tour guides, while in the hotel, we should have menus in Chinese and service men who can speak Chinese," he said.
More than that, the minister himself will visit China in mid- November to seek more tourism cooperation with the Chinese government and promote Egyptian tourism among Chinese, who Garranah said are willing to spend money.
He also wanted to use his first visit to China, where he would tour Guangzhou in south China and the capital city of Beijing, to learn more about how China has successfully developed its tourism sector.
"We know that China will be No. 1 destination for foreign tourists in the world soon. Definitely, people would like to know what you have been doing. Why you have come out so successful?" said Garranah, adding that China is a "case study."
"China has been amazing in all aspects and your government is doing perfectly in all sectors in the last 20 years, including tourism. (So) we would like to know how you have accomplished," he said.
He said that Trade and Industry Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid, who visited China last month, talked a lot about good examples from China and how they could be implemented in Egypt.
Commenting on Sino-Egyptian relations, Garranah said that this year marked the 50th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic
relations between the two countries.
"The relations are very strong, but they need to be even stronger. Both sides should explore more opportunities for investment and cooperation in all aspects," he said.
"Tourism is the best method of combining cultures and reducing cultural differences from one country to anther," he said.
China and Egypt established diplomatic relations on May 30, 1956, making Egypt the first Arab and African country to establish diplomatic ties with China.
BRINGING MORE MONEY TO EGYPT
Tourism is a key industry for Egypt, not only because it is top earner of Egypt's hard currency, but because it absorbs many laborers.
In 2005, Egypt received 8.6 million foreign tourists, up 6 percent from 8.1 million in 2004, and foreigners spent some 6.8 billion U.S. dollars in 2005, up about 8.3 percent from 6 billion dollars in 2004, said Garranah.
The numbers are the highest in Africa and the Middle East, he said.
Of Egypt's four major foreign currency earners, tourism has become the largest one, ahead of Suez Canal transit fees, remittances from expatriates and gas and oil exports. Tourism revenues accounted for 18 percent of Egypt's total.
Garranah, a 25-year veteran of the sector, wanted to bring more money and created more jobs for the country. "The sector is really important since it is the laborer-based industry. An additional 1 million foreign tourists into Egypt will create some 200,000 jobs for Egyptians," he said.
For 2006, Garranah said Egypt is aiming to lure some 9 million tourists, who will bring some 7.7 billion dollars. In the first nine months this year, about 6.6 million foreigners visited Egypt, up some 2.2 percent over the same period of last year.
In the long run, the minister has an even more ambitious goal -- by 2011 Egypt aims to receive 14 million tourists.
"We are doing a lot of things to make a big change -- improving infrastructure such as airports, roads, railways and hotels and more importantly raising tourism awareness among Egyptians," said Garranah.
For instance, the Tourism Ministry is planning to have 15,000 more hotel rooms every year. So far, Egypt has 172,000 hotel rooms, about 20,000 more than a year ago.
Raising tourism awareness among Egyptians is more important to Egypt, Garranah said, adding it will be the key to luring foreign tourists to make repeated visits to Egypt.
The ministry is working on return tourists, the benchmark for a successful tourism industry, said Garranah.
He also shrugged off terror threat to the tourism industry, saying that terrorism is "a worldwide phenomenon" and there is no danger in this respect.
Since 2004, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, where over 20 percent of hotel rooms are available, had been hit by three terror attacks -- Taba in October 2004, Sharm el-Sheikh in July 2005 and Dahab on April 24 of 2006. More than 110 Egyptians and foreigners have been killed and dozens of others injured in the attacks.