Luxor chosen as 2016 world tourism capital

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Egyptian men perform a traditional dance for tourists in Luxor, which was recently named as world tourism capital for 2016. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

Egyptian men perform a traditional dance for tourists in Luxor, which was recently named as world tourism capital for 2016. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

Luxor's selection as world tourism capital for 2016 will go a long way towards restoring Egypt's battered tourism sector, which has been hard hit by acts of terrorism such as the October 2015 plane crash over Sinai, officials tell Al-Shorfa.

The executive council of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) announced its unanimous decision on May 13th.

"The selection of Luxor as the world tourism capital will put Egyptian tourist destinations back on the global tourism map after the shocks they suffered in recent times because of fears of terrorist threats," said Mahmoud Shukri of the Ministry of Tourism's chamber of tourism promotion.

Tourism is of paramount importance to the Egyptian economy, he said, noting that the security situation has had a significant impact on the number of tourist arrivals in recent months, which fell by 45% from the same period last year.

Luxor has nearly completed all necessary procedures to establish security, he added, the most recent of which was the reinforcement of safety and security at the city's international airport.

A new resolution issued by the chamber of tourism promotion calls for the organisation of direct tours to Luxor after the summer months, as tours currently arrive in Cairo and head to Luxor via internal flights, Shukri said.

In the coming months, Luxor will hold several events alongside the chamber's 'Egypt is in our hearts' campaign, which was launched in early 2015 in cities such as Alexandria, Port Said, Luxor and Aswan to stimulate domestic tourism, he added.

Despite security concerns, many visitors still make their way to Luxor, he said, and Egyptian tour agencies have been visiting various countries to promote the city and open up new markets.

"Many countries are sending tourist groups to Luxor on a weekly basis despite the security concerns stemming from incidents that occurred in Egypt this year and have harmed tourism," he noted.

A large open-air museum

"The selection of a city such as Luxor as the capital of world tourism is not surprising, considering it is more than 4,000 years old and holds a third of the world’s antiquities, dating back to various eras," said Mahmoud al-Sharif, a lecturer at Cairo University’s faculty of antiquities.

The city also is home to several museums, he told Al-Shorfa.

Considerable effort has been made to preserve outdoor antiquities and to conduct excavations in co-operation with specialised universities, he said, hailing the city as "an open-air museum that is unparalleled in the world".

Another feature of Luxor is its clean environment that has remained free of the pollution that plagues many Egyptian provinces, he added, which adds to its appeal for many people.

The UNWTO decision will serve as a "catalyst in promoting Luxor, given that it enjoys full security, and this specifically will have a significant influence on the gradual return of tours to Egypt", al-Sharif added.

Restoring cultural tourism

The decision will bring cultural tourism back to the fore, he said, noting that this has lagged behind the high demand for recreational and beach tourism.

Luxor has world-renowned archaeological sites, he said, in addition to many theatres and venues where international festivals, such as the African, Asian and European film festivals, are held.

"The benefit of the selection of Luxor as the world tourism capital is that it will be a factor in attracting tourists to Egypt in general in the wake of the terrorism that jolted it," said Mahmoud al-Mohammad of the Ministry of Tourism’s chamber of tourism companies.

He highlighted the need to focus on external promotion, to be undertaken by the ministry's overseas tourism offices, with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through Egyptian embassies in the world’s capitals.

Luxor will host numerous prominent events and conferences in the coming period, including UNWTO's 104th session, to be held between October 30th and November 1st.

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