Starting from ancient Egyptian temples to grand mosques and Coptic cathedrals, Egypt’s heritage represents an invaluable tourist destination. However, the country’s unstable politics and economy formed a difficult challenge for tourism companies in the past few years. Walk Like an Egyptian (WLE)is a company that offers walking tours in historical and local sights, with constant fully booked tours, as Asmaa Khattab, founder and operations manager of WLE tells Egyptian Streets.
“The idea was to uncover the hidden gems of Egypt,” said Khattab, the 32 year-old tour guide.
Khattab is officially registering Walk Like an Egyptian as a company, after working on it for years as an initiative.
“It’s like I’ve been a relationship for three years and I decided to get married! It’s a good feeling. Commitment is good,” she narrates.
As to how Khattab started her business, she said, “See, it’s a story: it has like different phases. I graduated in 2006 and I started working in tourism. Then in 2010, I quit working with travel agencies. I later created the Facebook page in late 2011. I knew I wanted to make a change and I wanted to provide a new concept in tourism but, during that time, the idea was not very clear.”
The tourism industry in Egypt has taken many hits in the past few years. The country endured several terrorist attacks which, for some time, flagged Egypt as an unsafe tourist destination. In 2011, the number of tourists in Egypt fell by a third according to the state-run Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Although tourism had collapsed in Egypt, this important sector has begun rapidly picking up in Egypt as of late. Recently, TripAdvisor has ranked Hurghada, Egypt as one of the top touristic destinations in 2018.
“I felt as thought I’m not very proactive,” says Khattab when thinking about her previous wish to establish change.
“I used to hold papers saying Egypt is safe. It’s nice, but I wanted to deliver the message in a more effective way. It [the idea] popped up in my mind: we will start touring Egypt, we will walk in guided tours. We can start as only Egyptians, and maybe later foreigners will join.”
The main idea behind Walk Like an Egyptian is to take clients, Egyptians and non-Egyptians, on walking tours to non-traditional sights in Egypt. Tourists are taken to authentic restaurants rather than classical since most travel agencies offer classical programs, “tourists didn’t really see the real Egypt” adds Khattab.
Exploring Minya was the location of Walk Like an Egyptian ‘s most recent tour. The governorate has ancient Egyptian sites and tombs from the Greco-Roman era among other attractions. Khattab is particularly found of the museum of Hassan El-Shark, a contemporary Egyptian artist with work exhibited in the Louvre. El-Shark turned his home into a museum, which Khattab stumbled upon during one of her tours and now considers a rare gem of an attraction.
“It’s an amazing place with all of his paintings. He has drawings of el sera el helaleya, one thousand and one nights and among other genius pieces of his artwork,” Khattab described.
Even though Khattab carries a license as a tour guide, she faces problems getting paperwork done with the tourism police.
“Unfortunately our law is based on old tourism. For example, it’s required that you notify the tourist police. You need to report that you have people and where you’re going. The tourist police is doing their work. It’s bureaucracy that you need to notify the tourist police which is a never ending cycle.”
Walk like an Egyptian received a certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor last year, a certificate that celebrates companies that receive glowing reviews on the traveling platform.
As for future dreams, Khattab hopes to reach the world travel market (WTM), a travel expedition that takes place every year in London that showcases all travel agencies.