The Nile has lured tourists to Egypt for more than 100 years to board the storied cruises and marvel at the Great Pyramids. Egypt’s mystical and historical appeal is often celebrated in art and the works of Lord Byron and Agatha Christie.
But increasingly, Egypt is gaining a far less glamorous trademark. Egypt’s tourist touts, all-too familiar for those who have ever visited Egypt or lived in the country, are becoming a bigger problem for the government as it tries to boost the country’s tourism credentials.
Even the country’s prime minister, Hisham Qandil, joked with a 100 or so US business leaders in Cairo on Sunday reassuring the executives “you won’t have to pay 5 pounds to get on a camel and then 50 pounds to get off “.
The situation has become so dire that Egypt’s tour guides are rallying to protest the lack of security at tourist attractions, claiming they are attacked by souvenir vendors and unlicensed competitors fighting for turf at famed sites like the Valley of the Kings tombs in Luxor or Cairo’s medieval citadel, AP reports today.
Faten Abou Ali, a spokesman for the guides’ union, says President Mohammed Morsi’s new government is not paying attention to the industry, AP reported.
Tourism is one of the country’s top foreign currency earners, but since the abdication of former president Hosni Mubarak, revenue from this lucrative industry has been down by more than a third.
The latest figures from the central bank show Egypt’s tourism revenues fell to$ 9.4 billion in the last fiscal year (2012/2011) compared to $10.6 billion the previous year.
It is people like Mahmoud Saeed, the fourth generation of his family to work in the tourism trade, who are the most impacted. Mahmoud, who I spoke to in May for this Wall Street Journal article, lives in the village of Nazlet el Samaan at the foot of the pyramids. But since the revolution his income has plummeted, and he says he is struggling to support his family.
Before the revolution, the pyramids used to attract up to 25,000 tourists a day, each spending at least 100 Egyptian pounds ($16.55) to enter the pyramids, and typically several hundred pounds more for a tour guide. Now, it is a good day if just 1,000 tourists arrive.
Egypt’s tourism potential is massive, if only the sector would be formalised and regulated better.
Other countries are hard-pressed to beat Egypt in terms of the quality and number of historical sites and monuments. While the resumption of Nile cruises from Cairo, after an 18-year hiatus, offers some optimism, much more needs to be done. Some suggestions below (more ideas welcome):
- Respect for Ancient archaeological sites is often missing, leaving beautiful sites often littered with rubbish and monuments damaged. More education is needed to help people value what treasures they have.
- Improved security to stop looting. I was told by one of the executives present at the American Chamber of Commerce conference yesterday that it took 8 years to complete an inventory of the Egyptian Museum. The rest of Egypt now looks “like swiss cheese”, the executive said, referring to the amount of items stolen and the holes left on Egypt’s landscape.
- Charging more for entrance fees, camel rides and other excursions, while simultaneously banning all tourist guides from roaming premises and approaching tourists. If a tourist wants a guide, they can go to a special desk which has all licensed guides on a rota. Increased costs from entrance fees should be distributed equally among workers.
- Making the most of less popular sites. Sakara, one of the oldest pyramids in Egypt is far less popular than the Great Pyramids. Why no take advantage of this and many more under-visited sites to bring new tourists back to Egypt.
- Putting more expensive goods on sale – like luxury cotton and gold. Tourists will spend good money on quality goods rather than pushing cheap, tasteless fake papyrus and plastic pyramids. Why doesn’t Khan El Khalili, the souk in Cairo, offer more of a price range for rich tourists willing to spend more cash?