The following is Al-Masry Al-Youm’s interview with Hisham Zaazou, senior assistant to Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, as part of our Green Profile series, in which prominent figures discuss pressing environmental issues. Al-Masry Al-Youm caught up with Zaazou at the recent World Green Tourism conference in Abu Dhabi.
Al Masry Al Youm: Tell us about your work in tourism before joining the ministry.
Zaazou: I’ve been working in the field for over 30 years now, both in the public and private sectors. I began work in 1980 in North America with R&H Tourism Co. where I was eventually responsible for expanding their work to Egypt. I was with them for 15 years before working with Sakkara Travel as General Manager which lasted for 10 years. My involvement with the public sector began after I was elected as the director general of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, which was followed by my appointment as an assistant to the Minister of Tourism in 2008.
Al Masry Al Youm: Could you give us an overview of the current status of Egypt’s tourism sector?
Zaazou: Egypt is taken to be a success story with regards to its tourism industry. Since 1982 there has been an exponential expansion in the sector as evidenced by the number of tourists coming to Egypt today and the revenue the country makes in return. In 1982 we had 1.4 million tourists arriving in Egypt compared to 12.5 million in 2009. In turn, the revenue has increased from USD300 million in 1982 to USD10.6 billion in 2009.
During this time we have become number 19 amongst the top 50 tourism destinations worldwide and we rank number 1 amongst the Middle East, North Africa and Africa in terms of the share of the tourism market.
Al Masry Al Youm: From an environmental and conservationist standpoint, there are several concerns arising from having such a large number of tourists per year. For example, Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, voiced on more than one occasion his wish to cap the number of tourists coming to Egypt. What is your take on this view?
Zaazou: This is a valid concern of course. Environmental protection and the preservation of sites, whether archaeological or otherwise, are important to us. But it is our view that instead of capping the number of tourists as a solution, we should be looking into regulating the number. We need to regulate the number of visitors but we don’t need to hinder the flow. We believe that 20-25 million tourists can be supported throughout Egypt, as per our 2020 tourism plan. The stress on our natural resources is not denied but we believe that regulation is the key.
Al Masry Al Youm: So what has been in done in that respect from your end?
Zaazou: Recently the Ministry of Tourism devised the National Sustainable Tourism Plan (NSTP) with the intent to provide the regulatory means for responsible tourism in Egypt. Also, as the person in charge of the eco-tourism portfolio for the ministry, we have put together a plan of implementation since we believe that going green is the way to sustain the growth of this sector. The first step has involved putting in place a detailed green initiative for Sharm al-Sheikh, as one of our main tourism destinations in Egypt.
Our Sharm green initiative involves four targets to be reached by 2020. These include: emission, water supply, waste management and biodiversity targets. We aim to reduce emissions by 36 percent and reduce hotel energy-use per guest-night by 13 percent. In terms of water supply, we aim to decrease water use per guest-night for existing hotels by 13 percent, and for new hotels by 28 percent. We also aim to reduce water wastage in supply networks by 75 percent. In terms of waste management, we aim to achieve level three in solid waste management practice. Finally, we aim to reduce the biodiversity degradation rate to five percent per year.
It is important to note that these figures were reached following a phase of extensive study in order to put in place a realistic plan with quantifiable measures which could in fact be reached within the targeted time-line.
Al Masry Al Youm: Where are you now in terms of implementing this initiative for Sharm al-Sheikh? And is the aim to replicate it elsewhere?
Zaazou: This initiative received its approval from the prime minister in July 2010 and we have requested synchronizing efforts with the Ministry of Environment in order to be able to go into the implementation phase. We are hoping to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry in this respect sometime this month so that we can start implementing by early 2011.
As for replicating this initiative elsewhere, yes, the intention is to implement a green initiative for all of Egypt’s main tourism destinations.
Al Masry Al Youm: What challenges do you foresee in the implementation of this green initiative?
Zaazou: Firstly, a governance system needs to be put in place to ensure the swift implementation of this initiative throughout the country. Also, we need much awareness amongst Egyptians and visitors to ensure they also participate correctly in implementing this green initiative. People need to come to the understanding that responsible tourism or eco-tourism is in fact needed to be able to sustain an important pillar of our economy.
Al Masry Al Youm: Many thanks for your time.
Originally published by Egyptindependent.com here.