In an effort to improve travelers’ perceptions of the Islamist-ruled country and reignite its stagnating tourism industry, Egypt’s tourism minister recently sought to counter calls by conservative Muslim groups for bans on alcoholic beverages and bikinis.
“Bikinis are welcome in Egypt, and booze is still being served,” Egypt’s tourism minister, Hisham Zaazou, said at a news conference during a visit to the United Arab Emirates this month, according to a Reuters report.
“We had talks with these Salafi groups, and now they understand the importance of the tourism sector, but still you have some individuals that are not from the leadership saying these things,” the minister added.
Egypt’s tourism industry has suffered severely since the January 2011 revolution that saw the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Since then the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood has come into power, headed by President Mohamed Morsi.
Despite perceptions about the possibility of a more hardline approach to policies, the tourism industry, which is eager to start recouping its massive losses, wants to get the message across that there are no such policies that will apply to tourists.
“I can assure you that there [are] no restrictions about serving alcoholic beverages in the Egyptian hotels or [wearing] bikinis in the tourist resorts in Egypt,” Mohamed Hegazy of the Egyptian Tourist Authority wrote in an email.
Getting that message across to Western travelers watching the evolving political situation in Egypt from afar has proved a challenge to those who sell the destination.
“I do think there is a current perception problem,” Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five Tours & Expeditions, wrote in an email.
But whether laws are loosened or tightened regarding alcohol is not what visiting Egypt is all about, according to Sanghrajka. Beyond skimpy bathing suits and the consumption of alcoholic beverages, “there are more than enough reasons one would want to visit Egypt,” Sanghrajka said.
Despite the perception problem, Egypt’s tourism industry is seeing a slow recovery. Egypt counted 11.5 million visitors in 2012, a 17% increase from the 9.8 million who came in 2011.
In 2010, Egypt welcomed 14.7 million visitors.
During the first quarter of 2013, Egypt received approximately 3 million visitors, a 14.6% increase compared with the same period last year.
“I have all the confidence in the world [Egypt] will come back stronger than ever,” Sanghrajka wrote. “But it requires patience and a steady hand from everyone.”
Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.