Egypt launches tourism promotion campaign in Rome to lure Italians back

The Egyptian Tourism Ministry has launched a marketing campaign in Rome aimed at boosting the number of Italian visitors to Egypt, which have dropped off significantly since the murder in Cairo of PhD student Giulio Regeni earlier this year.

The marketing effort in Rome starts in November and is part of three-month campaign across Europe implemented by marketing firm J. Walter Thompson (JWT) on behalf of the Egyptian government.

The ministry has not released details of the campaign, but previous statements on JWT's tourism marketing efforts point to the placement of advertising materials in selected media outlets, spelling out the attractions of Egypt as a holiday destination.

The announcement follows comments on October 26 from Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentilonian, who described the death of Regeni as an "open wound" in Italy-Egypt relations.

The 28-year-old Regeni disappeared on January 25, the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising. Ten later, his corpse was found alongside the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, bearing the signs of torture.

The ongoing investigation into the student's death has so far failed to identify any suspects, and the Italian government has called for more transparency from Egyptian authorities. The affair has been offputting for Italians considering holiday destinations, with an overall drop in visitor numbers compared to previous years.

Meanwhile, in April 2016, the Italian Tourism Association decided to suspend all Egypt-related activities, including travel programs, until the story behind Guilio Regeni’s death had been “clarified”. The association is not an official government body, but its announcement was a further blow to Egypt's flagging tourism industry.

Several weeks after Regni's death, Mohamed Abdel Gabbar, head of the Egyptian Tourism Authority (ETA), announced an unprecedented drop in Italian tourism bookings to Egypt.

However, according to Egypt's Tourism Ministry, there has been a slight increase in visitor numbers in recent months, partly due to coordinated efforts between the two nations to boost visitor numbers. Italian investors in Egypt have been seeking to attract more tourists to resorts, while extra flights are expected from several Italian cities to Sharm el-Sheikh.

In September 2016, JWT launched a three-month tourism marketing campaign costing the Egyptian government more than US$20 million. The campaign targets 12 European nations and is part of an agreement reached with the Egyptian Tourism Authority last year.

Hany Shoukry, the CEO of JWT, said the pan-European campaign, which was launched in Germany last week, is Egypt's biggest ever tourism promotional effort.

The ministry statement said that the first fruits of the campaign were several flights on October 9 and 16 from Milan. More flights are expected from Naples, Bari, Pisa, Catania, Turin, Palermo, Bari and Ancona.

In September, the Egyptian Ambassador to Italy Amr Helmy disclosed that the country will operate 11 charter flights from several Italian cities to the Sharm el-Sheikh starting October.

Among those Italian companies looking to restart its Egypt-related business is Meridiana, which has requested that its trips to the temples of Abu Simbel be included in official efforts. They have called for the establishment of "double touch" flights, which would visit two Egyptian cities before returning to Italy.

ETA head Gabbar said there are positive indications that Egypt will see a boom in Italian visitors soon, with Italian travel agencies keen to restart business.

Meanwhile, Emad Abdullah, head of Egyptian Tourism Authority in Rome, told officials in Rome that Egypt offers “a unique combination of arts, culture, history and nature”, according to Nova Italian news agency.

Speaking during the Festival of Diplomacy at the Egyptian Embassy in Rome, Abdullah attributed the “big drop” in the tourism market in Egypt to the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, which hammered all Middle East countries.

“We have seen a significant reduction, because Cairo used to host 2 million Italian tourists annually, out of 12 million tourists from across the globe. But in 2015, we had only 300,000 Italian tourists,” he said.

However, Abdullah said that he is optimistic about the future, especially due to positive signs from the long-haul markets, such as China, Japan and the United States.

“We are working with Italian partners to raise visitor numbers in the coming period,” he said.


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