New Delhi: India and Egypt, two of the world’s oldest civilizations, celebrated 60 years of diplomatic relations in 2007. In the last 18 months, there have been 16 ministerial visits between the two countries. In 2007, bilateral trade amounted to $4.5 billion (Rs19,935crore), with $2 billion worth of Indian investments in Egypt. Tourism was one of drivers of bilateral trade. In 2006, a cooperation agreement was signed between the tourism ministries of the two nations to establish a joint working group to strengthen tourism links, as also a civil aviation agreement.

In an interview, Mohamed Higazy, ambassador of Egypt to India, spoke on how the agreements are producing results. Edited excerpts:

How many Indians visited Egypt last year and vice versa? What are your targets?

In 2007, around nine million tourists visited Egypt giving us revenues of $6 billion.

From India, we had around 82,000 tourists and it is safe to say that we are targeting 100,000 Indian tourists to Egypt this year, which we aim to double in 2010.

Hard sell: Mohamed Higazy, Egyptian ambassador to India, says that his country is targeting 100,000 Indian tourists this year, which it aims to double by 2010. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint

The Incredible India campaign is an important initiative of the Indian government here, but it is on a much smaller scale than what we do.

We hope that India also promotes itself in Egypt as we do here in India, and we invite India to further enhance that message in the Egyptian market which reflects also to the rest of the Arab and Gulf market.

What are the initiatives that you are working on with the Indian government to further tourism?

We have a joint bilateral working group on tourism with India and the Indian tourism minister Ambika Soni will visit Egypt anytime soon. I met her last week.

We are also working on reaching a memorandum of understanding between the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), a very old school on antiquity preservation that conserves and protects monuments, transcripts and paintings.

The working group had their third meeting in April in Delhi, and we hope that during the visit of minister Soni, the group will consider finalizing the MoU.

We aim to have Indian and Egyptian experts exchange views on how best to preserve discovered monuments and we can lend our knowledge on this very old field.

Air links between the two countries are an integral part of tourism, yet currently there are no direct flights to and from Egypt and India, except Egypt Air. Are you working on this?

We want to have more direct flights from India to Egypt. There are about 11 Gulf and regional flight companies which bring Indian tourists every year. Egypt Air flies thrice a week directly from Cairo to Mumbai.

We have an agreement with the civil aviation authorities to increase these flights to seven a week, and we plan to extend Egypt Air flights to Delhi, southern India, maybe Bangalore and east India, maybe Kolkata. We will be in Delhi, hopefully soon. We invite India to resume its traditional links with the Cairo airport in Egypt.

Are you in talks with any Indian airlines to leverage Egypt as a destination?

We have already had preliminary discussions with Kingfisher Airlines Ltd and Jet Airways (India) Ltd and they have been very positive.

Many other Indian companies are considering Egypt as a destination. A good portion of Indian tourists would prefer flying through these airlines than by another and changing flights. Why all this if we have a direct flight that will avoid all the hassle. Also, it will bring back all Egyptian and Gulf tourists to India.

Any incentives that you are looking at offering Indian airline companies?

We will meet their needs. We have offered Indian companies concessions in taxation, service facilities and support to their international lines overseas.

Egypt Air has become a member of the Star Alliance and that will definitely give us an edge. We will consider tax exemptions and land facilities. It is in our interest that reputable Indian companies come to Egypt.

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