CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian beach tourism is here to stay, the tourism minister in the Islamist-led administration said on Tuesday, saying any Islamic investment in the sector would complement but not replace resorts that are part of an industry vital to Egypt.
Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou is tasked with reviving an industry that accounted for 10 percent of economic activity before an uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak 19 months ago, sending both investors and tourists packing.
Questions have swirled around the future of the industry, as Islamist groups outlawed under Mubarak moved to the heart of public life, culminating in the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in the first real Egyptian presidential election earlier this year.
Many Islamists object to women wearing bikinis or other revealing swimwear on public beaches and oppose the sale of alcohol, items that for many Western and other visitors are part of a seaside holiday.
Brotherhood officials have typically sidestepped questions on the future of beach resorts that include Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea, often dismissing the topic as marginal and saying there are more important things to worry about.
Asked about the future of such resorts, Zaazou — a senior tourism ministry official before taking his new post in the cabinet appointed in August - gave an unequivocal answer.
“It will not be changed. Nothing will affect beach tourism. We are building on, increasing even, the capacities and the services rendered for our clients coming to our beaches,” he told Reuters.
Though Egypt is renowned for pharaonic antiquities, its Red Sea beaches in particular draw many Western and other tourists.
“The current government, the current president is backing tourism at large. Everybody is aware that beach tourism constitutes 70 percent of the traffic coming to Egypt. It will continue to do so,” the minister said.
“If there is investment in special kinds of beach tourism for, let’s say, Arab investors or Islamic investors as mentioned before, we are welcoming that on top, not in replacement of the current beach tourism,” he added.
He was speaking on the sidelines of a business conference, one of a series initiatives to attract investors and boost growth in an economy struggling to create enough jobs.
The government has said it will promote tourism. But the task of drawing back tourists has been complicated by internationally televised scenes of violent street protests last week over a film that denigrated the Prophet Mohammad.
Zaazou said Egypt aimed to increase the number of visitors from a projected 12 million in 2012 to around 15 million in 2013 — a number that would equal the number of visitors in 2010.
“If we view the tourism industry as a factory, then it is ready for operation tomorrow morning,” he said.
The government aimed to attract 30 million tourists by 2020, he said. By then, he said the industry should be generating $25 billion in revenue per year - double the $12.5 billion it generated in 2010.
Reporting by Tom Perry; editing by Ron Askew