What does the future hold for Egypt’s tourism industry after the Sharm el-Sheikh plane crash?
The devastating plane crash over the Sinai region in Egypt is set to cripple a country that relies so heavily on tourism, not least because it is the latest in a line of blows to the industry.
Since the revolution in 2011, where headlines of unrest had echoed across the world media, Egypt has never recovered its visitor numbers. I visited the region – both Sharm el-Sheikh and Cairo – just two weeks before the crash, and I was told by local tour operators that the tourism economy has shrunk to a third of its pre-revolution height. Despite being declared as safe to travel to on the government advice site, and life going on as normal in the country, the news headlines of military coups and demonstrations have created a lasting impression in the minds of the public. What was once on most people’s bucket lists of places to visit, largely thanks to the remaining Wonder of the World – The Great Pyramids of Giza – is now less of a must-see.
Having visited Egypt, I felt totally safe, there were checkpoints on many junctions, run by the government. Cairo itself, even Tahrir Square, showed no signs of the unrest it had felt a few years before. However, I could see that the pyramids – the prime sight of Egypt – weren’t abuzz with tourists – and those who were being hurt by the lack of business the most – the local street sellers – were flogging their souvenirs for next to nothing.
The plane crash therefore is something that may have a lasting effect an already embattled economy. So what can Egypt do to recover its reputation and reclaim its former image of a must-visit destination? Firstly, officials need to be seen to be taking control of any security issues. Sharm el-Sheikh airport is being criticised over its security. The airport is apparently investigating, however, there has not yet been any official public statements, apart from to confirm that there is an ongoing investigation. Egyptian authorities, including officials from the airport, should be holding regular press conferences, informing of progress, and any findings must lead to direct action. Putting a public face on the crisis, will add empathy and humanity. In a state of panic, many organisations, including global franchises, often focus solely on dealing with the issue in hand, and make the mistake of going quiet on the public. However, a ‘head in the sand’ approach will not work, and whilst a company may be doing all they can behind closed doors, if they don’t communicate this, people will just assume they’re not doing enough.
A bold move, such as the replacement of senior security officials, or tighter, mandatory controls, need to be declared publicly, so that people know that everything is being done to prevent this tragedy from occurring again.
Finally, Sharm el-Sheikh needs to share what is good about its destination. The BBC used an interview featuring a case study saying she would happily visit again and that enjoyed her stay. More of the positive will remind people to look beyond the headlines, and add perspective that this is an incredibly rare, incredibly tragic case.
Of course, it will take years for Egypt and Sharm el-Sheikh to recover its reputation. However, obeying the simple principles that are vital in any reputational crisis – apologise, assess, act, inform and assure – is a necessity for the region to restore the faith of the public, and secure its economy.