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‘New Egypt’ Activists Back on Facebook to Bring Back Tourists

Egyptian activists are once again taking to Facebook — and this time, the government isn’t likely to shut down the Internet .

To help rebuild their country’s suffering tourism sector, social media-savvy Egyptians who three months ago focused online efforts on driving old leaders out are using the same tactics to bring new visitors in, with Facebook campaigns like Come Back to Egypt.

Egyptian officials estimate that the 18-day revolution alone cost the country $1 billion in tourism revenue. And since Jan. 25, tour bookings have shown little sign of improvement.

That’s not gone unnoticed in a country where more than two million people make their living in the tourism industry, and generated $11.6 billion from 14.7 million visitors in 2009-10. According to Egyptian Minister of Tourism Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, this impacts “the livelihood of 1 in 7 Egyptians.”

The government’s own campaign — which emphasizes Egypt’s historic attractions and post-revolution safety – features the slogan “Online revolution: Made in Egypt” — as well as a Facebook page, Support the Tourism. Since the beginning of March, the Egyptian government has offered airlines and tour operators more than $100 million in collective recovery-plan incentives. (The government has also promised to increase tourist industry workers’ salaries by 15 percent.)

Egyptian students pose for pics to encourage the return of foreign tourists. (AP)

And while the Egyptian Tourist Authority attempts to woo travelers back to classic Land of the Pharaohs sites — the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, Luxor, Sharm El Sheikh — several private operators are luring visitors with tours of Tahrir Square and other “New Egypt” landmarks.

Still, it may take a while until Egypt sees another 14.7 million-tourist year. Though major tour operators including Abercrombie & Kent and Grand Circle are now returning, regional unrest, reduced airline service, State Department warnings have lead many travelers to keep the country — and many of its neighbors — off their spring and summer travel itineraries.

And of course, there’s plain ol’ confusion: Even Turkey, which likes to think of itself more akin to Greece and Spain than Egypt or Tunisia, has seen a significant dip in tour bookings.

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