Merchants say Egypt tourism revival steady but slow

Egyptian workers prepare a hot air balloon for a ride over the ancient city of Luxor, a city that has been hit by a tourism drought. (AFP)
Updated 19 September 2017
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Merchants say Egypt tourism revival steady but slow

LUXOR: Pummelled by political unrest and terror attacks, Egypt’s tourism industry is slowly growing again, but too slowly for thousands of bazaar workers who fondly recall when tourists thronged their stores.
Abu Aya owns a souvenir shop in the southern city of Luxor which is home to ancient pharaonic monuments, and he fondly remembers the days when the front pocket of his traditional Arabic robe sagged with cash.
“Before 2011 it was filled with dollars and euros. Today the sellers just sit in front of their stores reading the papers because there are so few customers,” the 47-year-old said.
In the promenade bazaar lined with shops selling souvenirs and incense, every business seemed to be suffering from the downturn.
For years the North African nation had worked to attract more tourists to its famed ancient sites and pristine Red Sea beaches, a policy that resulted in a record 14.7 million visitors in 2010.
Tourism in the Arab world’s most populous country has long provided much-needed revenues.
In October 2015, Daesh said it downed a Russian airliner in the Sinai after it took off from a Red Sea resort, killing all 224 people on board.
Visitor numbers plunged from 9.3 million in 2015 to 5.3 million the following year.
A public relations blitz by the tourism industry including international events and slick advertisements has had some effect, tourism officials say.
Hotel occupancy rates in Luxor are expected to reach 30 percent by the end of the year, compared with 23 percent in 2016 and 17 percent in 2015, said Maher Abdel Hakim, an expert on the hospitality industry who runs a tourism promotion group.
But there is still a long way to go, as suggested by the desperate shop owners and drivers of horse-drawn carriages who resort to pleading for business.
“I’ll accept whatever you pay — I just want to buy fodder for the horse,” one yelled at potential clients outside the colossus-flanked entrance of the ancient Luxor Temple.
Sites such as Luxor — once a pharaonic capital that still boasts stunning ancient temples — have been hardest hit, compared with the beach resorts that continue to attract a diminished but steady flow of holidaymakers.
“Before the 2011 revolution, 1,500 French tourists would come to Luxor in just a week,” said Ahmed Mahmoud, a 35-year-old former tourism industry worker who has since switched to teaching.
Abdel Hakim said the city’s population and its tourism workers were suffering.
“Tourists in the past would walk around the historic sites, and ride carriages and buy souvenirs... everyone would profit,” he said.


Clariant and SABIC deepen ties under new partnership

Updated 50 sec ago
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Clariant and SABIC deepen ties under new partnership

  • Clariant, SABIC to merge high-performance materials operations
  • SABIC executive to become Clariant CEO

ZURICH: Switzerland’s Clariant and new anchor shareholder Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) will merge their high-performance materials businesses and install a SABIC manager as head of the group as they strengthen their partnership.
The new joint venture and governance accord announced on Tuesday mark the first concrete signs of how SABIC’s arrival as a white knight in January is reshaping the speciality chemicals group that US activists had targeted.
The partners had agreed that SABIC would not take over Clariant but could boost the 24.99 percent stake it bought from the activists to rescue Clariant from a hostile takeover threat, Clariant CEO Hariolf Kottmann told a news conference.
Reuters reported in June that SABIC, the world’s fourth-largest chemicals maker, was considering increasing its holding in Clariant and pursuing joint ventures.
Clariant shares were up 6.1 percent at 0915 GMT, leading the European chemical sector index, after news of the revamp that will let Clariant focus on higher-value speciality chemicals. SABIC shares gained 0.7 percent.
SABIC Specialties Executive Vice President Ernesto Occhiello, 58, will take over next month as chief executive. Kottmann, who is 62 and has been CEO for 10 years, will now become chairman.
Clariant and US group Huntsman last Ocotber abandoned plans for a $20 billion merger, a win for activist investors who fought the deal for months on the grounds it would destroy shareholder value.
Clariant will hold a majority stake in the new business, which combines its Additives and high-value Masterbatches divisions with parts of SABIC’s Specialties business.
Clariant will divest the remaining Plastics & Coatings business by 2020, it said in a statement.
By 2021, the group aims to generate annual sales of around 9 billion Swiss francs ($9.36 billion), compared with 6.38 billion in 2017, and a margin on earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of around 20 percent.
Kottmann said it was important to gain critical mass in specialty chemicals and said the $15 billion in sales the company could have achieved if it had merged with Huntsman was “still the number which is important for us.”
“The move now is a first move into this direction. I’m sure that we will have more opportunities in the years to come to further go into higher value specialities and to strengthen our business areas, for example care chemicals or catalysis or natural resources,” Kottmann said.
Middle Eastern companies have been eager to expand into advanced downstream chemicals operations like the catalysts that Clariant produces to help speed up processes at chemicals plants.
Saudi state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco in 2015 bought half the synthetic rubber business of Germany’s Lanxess.
The moves show that Saudi companies are increasingly trying to raise their influence outside the Kingdom as part of the ambitious Vision 2030 plan to diversify the country’s economy from oil.
The group said combining operations was set to generate annual synergies of around 100 million Swiss francs over three years from the deal’s closing.
Under the governance agreement, Clariant’s board of directors will expand to 12 members from 10 now, of which four will be nominated by SABIC. Shareholders must approve the change at a meeting set for Oct. 16.