By Mohammed Nosseir
‘Have you been to Egypt?’ is a question I ask most people I meet abroad, after introducing myself as an Egyptian. In response to my question, I usually receive one of two sets of replies: ‘No, I haven’t been there yet, but Egypt is on my dream list of countries that I intend to visit’, or ‘Yes, I have been to Egypt’ – followed inevitably by an account of annoying issues that spoiled the person’s stay in our country. Over time, I came to realise that if the Egyptian Tourism Authority would work on addressing our internal challenges, we could increase the number of tourists visiting Egypt and enhance our tourism revenues without the need to spend millions of dollars on promotional campaigns every year.
Egypt is blessed with a wide variety of touristic attractions and with the fact that it is a destination that ranks very highly in tourists’ minds. It is one of a handful of countries that has an incredible diversity of touristic sites and attractions (ancient monuments, beaches, deserts, entertainment facilities, and many others). Tourism, however, is no longer about pure sightseeing; it is about re-energising souls and minds by living in a different culture and experiencing new things. Unfortunately, Egypt is very often deficient when it comes to delivering these qualities.
Instead of offering services designed to please tourists, Egyptian tourism personnel generally tend to apply their own cultural traits to their dealings with foreign tourists. Many of these cultural traits, such as kindness, generosity and a sense of humour, are positive qualities, but they also include qualities that are not really appreciated by tourists (excessive noisiness, extremely bright lights and colours, and a tendency to interfere in the personal lives of tourists). Additionally, we are known to be a quantity driven country, whereas tourists spending only a few days abroad are looking to be pampered with superior quality services.
The Pyramids of Giza are one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and tourists who visit them want to spend quality time observing and taking in the entire scene. Likewise, tourists who spend a few hours on the beach are seeking relaxation (swimming, reading or simply enjoy the sea view). However, both tourists and others visiting different sites and locations in Egypt are usually harassed by various tourism promoters; the quality time that tourists are eager to experience is ruined by people who literally push them to do things against their wills.
I often argue with tourism promoters, explaining that tourists will enjoy their stay more and have a much better experience if they are allowed to plan their own itineraries or to shop at their own pace – rather than being chased and harassed by relentlessly persistent sales promoters. In response, tourism promoters argue that their attitudes often succeed in bringing them more business. They might be right about acquiring more business, but this is definitely at the cost of annoying great numbers of tourists who suffer so much from this situation that they will surely think twice about coming back to Egypt.
The services that we offer, along with our low prices, have resulted in a class of tourists who do not mind putting up with this unpleasant treatment, given the low price that they have paid for their holidays. Meanwhile, tourism experts often claim that their low earnings prevent them from providing the proper training their staff needs in order to upgrade the services offered; they are thus living in a vicious circle that they are not able to break. As a result, the only remaining option is to maximize the revenue obtained from any tourist, in any interaction. This might be a good individual tactic, but it is certainly one that has a disastrous impact on the tourism industry as a whole.
Over a decade ago, Egypt used to run the opera “” at the Giza Pyramids for a number of consecutive nights. The event was supported internationally by a large advertising campaign. However, due to poor management, oftentimes less than one-quarter of the seats would be sold. The Opera Director would then offer the remaining tickets at a substantially reduced price to government institutions (reasoning that performing at a loss before a full house was preferable to performing for nearly empty seats). This resulted in audiences who had no taste for opera chatting with one another throughout the show, ruining the evening for both the performers and any spectators interested in enjoying the performance.
Everyone agrees that Egypt offers strong tourism attractions that other countries lack. The challenge lies in our ability to manage our tourism resources in such a way as to maximize revenues while ensuring that tourists leave our country with a positive impression. If it were my call, I would exchange Egypt’s tourism promotional campaign for a concerted effort aimed at regulating the tourism industry and enhancing its services, combined with dealing firmly with tourism personnel who abuse tourists. This will certainly enhance the industry. Egypt is a country that is on the top of all tourists’ minds. Addressing the deficiencies in the quality of our tourism services will go much further towards boosting the industry than spending millions on selling and promoting inferior tourism services in order to barely cover our costs.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian Liberal Politician working on reforming Egypt on true liberal values, proper application of democracy and free market economy. Mohammed was member of the Higher Committee, and headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012