- Fear of attacks by Islamic terrorists has caused a massive slump in registrations for the International Advertising Association's World Advertising Congress opening in Cairo next week.
Now its Egyptian organisers are hoping that a last-minute surge of interest from the Middle East marketing and media community will prevent speakers such as Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak and the WPP chairman Martin Sorrell speaking to rows of empty seats.
The number of delegates is expected to be little more than half the 2,300 who attended the last congress in Seoul, South Korea, two years ago, a situation described by an IAA source as "seriously disappointing".
So concerned are congress officials to avoid an embarrassing flop that IAA affiliates are being offered free accommodation at the American University in Cairo in an effort to boost numbers.
The involvement of Mubarak, who is to give the opening address, reflects the importance attached by the Egyptian government to stage a successful and incident-free congress to help revive a tourist industry decimated by terrorist outrages.
The country's plans to play host to the congress--on the theme of Interaction in the 21st Century-- were thrown into doubt after last November's massacre of 64 tourists at Luxor. Speculation was rife that the venue would be changed to Dubai although IAA chiefs, conscious of the heavy investment already made by the Egyptians, agreed to keep faith as long as there were no further incidents.
Norman Vale, the IAA's director general, agreed that worries about security had hit attendances. But he claimed that a major reason for the drop in numbers compared to Seoul was the fact that South Korea was the world's seventh largest advertising market. "Egypt isn't anywhere near the same size," he said.
He added: "There's a lot riding on this for the Egyptians who have done everything possible to make the congress a success are we are beginning to see an upswing in registrations."