Egypt has always been a preferred destination for rich Arab tourists, who find the climate salubrious and the entertainment interesting.
This year, however, the authorities fear that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts on Wednesday at the height of the annual tourist season, will mean that many potential visitors stay at home instead.
AdvertisementIn a bid to avert a slump in its lucrative tourist industry, particularly during boom-time August, Egypt has launched a major campaign aimed at luring visitors, with the promise of fireworks, concerts, folkloric shows and displays by whirling dervishes.
During Ramadan, Muslims who are fit and able are required to abstain from food, drink and smoking during daylight hours. They then traditionally gather to break the fast at sunset with their families for the iftar meal.
For many Muslims, Ramadan is therefore not a time to book holidays abroad, but a time when most socialising takes place in the home.
Against this tradition, Egypt is trying to attract Arab tourists to the banks of the Nile during the holy month with the "Fawanees Ramadan Festival." Fawanees are colourful lanterns hung across the country and in homes to mark the holy month.
The festival will kick off in the capital Cairo with a parade of traditional sailing boats or "felucca" down the Nile.
The campaign, organised by the tourism ministry, seeks to promote the Egyptian Ramadan experience in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Libya and Tunisia.
Non-Arab Turkey, with its majority-Muslim population, is also being targeted by the campaign which is backed by heavy advertising.
Egyptair's fleet of aircraft and Cairo international airport are also taking part and have been especially decorated for the occasion, while several luxury hotels favoured by Arab wealthy tourists are offering special Ramadan packages.
Advertising spots have been aired on Egyptian and Arab satellite channels under the slogan "Egypt's Spirit in Ramadan."
The campaign is of vital importance to Cairo's coffers. Arab tourists, particularly those from the Gulf, make up almost 20 percent of the 12 million visitors who come to Egypt annually.
Egypt's tourist industry last year brought in more than 10 billion dollars in revenue and employs around 12 percent of the active population.
"Arab tourists are very important for Egypt," Samy Mahmud from the ministry of tourism told AFP.
"On average, they spend a lot more money than the others, and their stays are much longer," he said.
While European or American tourists tend to travel in organised package holidays at low prices, Arab visitors book suites in Cairo's luxury hotels for stays that can last as long as several weeks, Mahmud said.
But this year the timing could hit tourism revenues hard.
The peak season for Arab tourists this year coincides with Ramadan, and this will also be the case for several years to come as the holy month, which follows the lunar calendar, goes forward by around 10 days every year.
So deeply rooted is the family association with Ramadan that Egypt's glitzy campaign will have a hard time luring many Arab tourists away from mama's cooking during the holy month -- even for a jamboree on the Nile.
"For me, Ramadan is celebrated at home and with the family," said Hussein Ali, a Kuwaiti visiting Cairo before the holy month begins on Wednesday.
"During the month, there are many visits paid to family and friends' homes, and I would never miss that for a few concerts organised in Egypt," he said.
Tunisian teenager Qassam agreed.
"Egypt is a beautiful place and I have really enjoyed my stay here but Ramadan should be spent at home with the family, in Tunisia," he said.
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