Soha El Torgoman, general manager of Ramses Hilton Hotel and a member of the Egyptian Tourism Authority (ETA) and the Technical Secretariat of the Supreme Council for Tourism, said that tourism in Egypt is improving. In an interview with Daily News Egypt, she explained all aspects related to the Egyptian tourism situation.
What is your assessment of the current status of the tourism sector?
The situation has become very different now than before the crisis of the crash of a Russian airliner.
What are the differences you see?
I think that the Egyptian tourist situation is improving. All the countries that had a travel ban imposed on Egyptian destinations following the fall of the airliner have been lifted, except Russia, which is still intact due to political reasons, and Britain on Sharm El-Sheikh only.
Do you think that the tourism sector has begun recovering from the crash?
Yes, the situation began to recover. This is evident by the fact that all nationalities are coming to Egyptian destinations after 18 months since the crash.
Do you see a change in the inflow map?
The Egyptian tourist map has completely changed during the last period. The sector used to rely on specific nationalities and certain markets, which made it very vulnerable to changes. I think that the Egyptian tourism sector has begun to rely on new markets and adopted new types of tourism that were not included before.
What are the most important new markets?
India, China, and Ukraine, as well as Latin America, which grew by 200% in the first quarter of the current year. The tourism from the Gulf has also increased significantly.
What are the new types of tourism?
The classic or cultural tourism that was customary before 2011 relied only on floating hotels. But now, Luxor and Aswan are seeing a boom across floating and traditional hotels.
Are there new nationalities starting to appear in tourist destinations?
The Gulf tourism began to emerge in areas that were not dependent on the Arabs, such as Aswan and Luxor, in addition to their interest in Sharm El-Sheikh, which was limited previously. The North Coast region began to heavily attract Arab tourism. I expect to see rental and buying prices go up there amid the growing Arab attention that will follow Ramadan.
Has there been a significant difference in the marketing of Egyptian tourist destinations?
For the first time, the Egyptian tourism sector relies on online marketing through bloggers and international reservation sites. It has become the first method of marketing in the world and we have to rely on it without the need for paper and printed publications and advertisements. The bloggers also have a great impact on global tourism marketing.
Did the use of electronic marketing increase inflow?
Electronic marketing has helped to limit the control of travel agents and major tour operators that had a monopoly over Egyptian tourism. It enabled us to reach tourists without dealing with operators.
What other new tourist patterns has Egypt started to introduce?
The path of the Holy Family has become one of the most important tourist patterns during the recent period. It will become the forefront of tourism patterns in two years, as it will attract a large number of Copts around the world to visit Egypt.
How did Egypt start promoting and marketing the path of the Holy Family?
A year ago, the Ministry of Tourism began to pay attention to the path of the Holy Family, when the minister visited Italy and was asked to prepare for the visit of the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar and the Pope. The path of the Holy Family will be added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
What are the advantages of adding the path of the Holy Family to UNESCO?
Once it is added, UNESCO will secure the funding necessary to develop these sites, in addition to helping the ministry promote them.
What is the number of sites within the path of the Holy Family?
The path includes 37 sites. The state is working to secure these sites and will begin with eight of them. This was presented to tour operators too.
What is your assessment of the participation of the tourism sector in international exhibitions?
The Egyptian Tourism Authority is currently working to use the help of a specialised company to prepare for the sector’s participation in international exhibitions. The authority aims to make Egypt a trademark on the world map of tourism.
Will Egypt be placed as a trademark as a whole or by placing different marks on the country’s tourism destinations?
We seek to make Egypt, as a whole, a trademark. When Russia and Britain lift the travel ban, we will begin dividing Egypt into different brands. We want to make the path of the Holy Family a brand, as it combines two types of tourism, classic and religious. This will be in parallel with the marketing of other sites.
Why did we recently start to pay attention to the path of the Holy Family at last?
Egypt needed a new tourist product to be presented to the world in light of the recent crises that the state faced.
What are the most important tools used by the ministry and the sector in increasing the inflow of tourists in the recent period?
Changing the charter flights incentive scheme to include regular flights is an important step, as many tourists come on board regular flights.
How did tour operators benefit from this scheme?
There were many complaints about the fees in Egyptian airports. The ministry is now paying these fees on behalf of the tour operators, which brings the total cost down and keeps foreign exchange available in Egypt.
As a lady who manages the Hilton Ramses Hotel, can you tell us how successful Egyptian women are in managing hotels?
I am the first Egyptian woman to manage a hotel in Egypt. I am also the first Muslim Arab woman to manage a hotel belonging to the Hilton Worldwide Group. I am currently training female experts to make them become top choices for Hilton leading positions. Egyptian women can become very successful in managing hotels in Egypt, as they have many advantages, such as patience and tolerance, which were planted in them by God.
What is the role of the Hilton Worldwide Group in empowering women to manage its hotels?
Amongst Hilton’s priorities is putting women in leading positions. There are plans to increase the number of women working at the group’s hotels to 20%, up from 10% previously.
How many women manage hotels in Egypt?
There are only two now, including me. But this is new and likely to increase more in the future.
What are the most important measures you took when you took over the Hilton Ramses Hotel?
When I was first appointed, I attended all meetings for all departments of the hotels for more than three months. This was one of the most important steps that helped me get to know all employees and learn first hand all operations. It also kept an open line of communication with them to exchange suggestions and views.
What has the development of the hotel been like since you took over the management?
I have been very interested in the way we welcome guests and the service quality at the hotel. Egyptians do not have the genes to serve others, but they have outstanding hospitality genes.
Why is the manager of the food and beverages department at hotels always not Egyptian?
Lack of interest in the technical and special study for the hospitality sector has weakened it much in the last few years, along with the poor quality of training for the sector’s employees.
Does Ramses Hilton train staff?
One of the most important activities carried out by the hotel management and the international group is training. The group provides an online university to develop the skills of the staff. There is also a specialised training manager at the hotel. We may cut allocations for training, but we never cancel them.
Are there any directives from the Supreme Council for Tourism to train workers in the tourism sector?
As a member of the Technical Secretariat of the Supreme Council for Tourism headed by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, I stress that we have been tasked to train all the public servants that deal with tourists.
What are the developments in the hotel?
We have completed the first phase of development, which includes upgrading 68 rooms; 63 regular rooms and 5 suites. They will be opened for Eid Al Fitr, including a big suite called Diwan, which overlooks the Nile River. It is also a duplex with a special kids area. There is also more development in the pipeline, such as opening a hall named after the hotel, Ramses, which will include different areas to match all visitors. The second phase of development will include upgrading two floors, the pool, the reception, and restaurants. This will begin in November. After Eid Al Fitr, we will also repaint the outer walls of the hotel in cooperation with Sipes.
Is the development of the hotel related to competition with other hotels overlooking the Nile?
Yes, we are developing the hotel for competition. And we are targeting all types of guests, including the high-spending guests. The renovations will change the personality of the hotels completely.
What nationalities choose to stay at Hilton Ramses?
The Saudis and Gulf countries are at the forefront, as well as the Spanish, the Americans, and the Chinese, followed by Malaysians and Indonesians.
Have you applied the value added tax in the hotel?
Hilton Group is very committed to the implementation of all new laws adopted by the government, including the decision to apply the VAT.
What is the effect of the flotation on revenues and expenses?
The decision to float the pound hiked revenues more than costs. That decision was good for the Egyptian tourism sector, especially foreign tourism.
What is your favorite award?
I was awarded the GM Leadership Award across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). The winner of the award is chosen based on a global internal survey, through which criteria, including team engagement, trust, and leadership effectiveness, are evaluated.