Hawass has a plan to rescue Egypt’s tourism

Sunday 02/10/2016
Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass

CAIRO - Zahi Hawass said he has a plan to revive Egypt’s tourism, bring millions of visitors to Egypt and res­cue the battered economy.

The sexagenarian archaeologist, who was once a cherished face of Egypt’s antiquities, is back in the limelight after years of absence since the 2011 revolution. This time, he said, he has a plan to bring Egypt’s heritage to the internation­al stage.

“This will rescue our economy, bring in much-needed funds and bring tourists back to ancient sites,” Hawass said. “Ancient Egypt’s an­tiquities are the strongest magnet for tourists.”

Hawass’s tourism stimulus and rescue plan mainly depends on bringing Egypt’s ancient heritage to tourists in their countries by organising a series of fairs in im­portant capitals. He said by taking Egyptian relics to tourists in other countries, Egypt can bring its civi­lisation to the centre of tourists’ in­terest, which should convince them to visit Egypt.

“We can invite the media to the fairs and seize this chance to showcase the security situation in our country,” Hawass said. “Tour­ists need to know that Egypt, unlike what they read in the media, is safe.”

His plan is seen as timely as Egypt’s tourism sector is suffering. Tourism revenues fell 49% to $3.9 billion in the fiscal year 2015-16, from $7.4 billion in the previous fiscal year, according to the Cen­tral Bank of Egypt. In June, tourism revenues were off 77%, compared with June 2015, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobili­sation and Statistics, the govern­ment’s research arm.

Tourists shunned Egypt after a Russian passenger plane was bombed after take-off from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport last October.

International travel restrictions are starting to ease and tourism ex­perts say Hawass’s plan could help accelerate the return of the tourists.

“Antiquities exhibitions can be the best promotion for our coun­try,” said tourism expert Magdy Se­lim. “When they visit the fairs and see samples of ancient relics, the tourists will be ready to go the extra mile of visiting Egypt to see more relics.”

In 2010, as head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), the agency that supervised antiquities before the creation of the Antiqui­ties Ministry in 2011, Hawass or­ganised a number of fairs outside Egypt. The outcome was astound­ing, as 14.7 million tourists visited Egypt that year.

Hawass’s tourism rescue plan de­pends on using well-known Egyp­tians, including the wife of late leader Anwar Sadat, to attract tour­ists. These figures would visit tour­ist sites on televised tours to invite attention to the country’s wonders.

“The government must make use of people like me to save tourism,” Hawass said. “I will not take money for this but I will be happy to see Egypt becoming better.”

One reason why the government might be distancing itself from Ha­wass is that he is seen by many as belonging to the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak. Many remember July 11th, 2011, Hawass’s last day as Antiquities minister, when scores of employees besieged his car outside ministry headquar­ters in Cairo and asked him to leave office.

However, Hawass is credited with saving Egypt’s heritage at a critical time. As SCA’s head, he oversaw the building of 60 warehouses to store antiquities when Egypt’s security system collapsed during Mubarak’s last days in power.

Despite those efforts, Hawass said almost a quarter of the antiqui­ties were stolen and smuggled out of Egypt in 2011 and 2012. Hawass said he was instrumental in the re­turn of 6,000 ancient relics to Egypt and that he has helped hundreds of archaeologists receive proper pro­fessional training.

However, some people say Ha­wass took credit for the achieve­ments, denigrating colleagues and co-workers.

“He did not build the warehouses with his own money but with state money,” said Abdel-Halim Noured­din, a veteran archaeologist and the former head of the SCA. “He took credit for returning stolen ar­tefacts, although he did not bring them back alone.”

Hawass said he has no time to respond to critics, as he is too busy writing for newspapers, lecturing inside and outside Egypt and trying to resuscitate tourism in the coun­try.

“I have no time to reply to these people,” Hawass said. “It is impor­tant now that we all join hands to help our country get over its diffi­culties. Egypt deserves better.”