Tourists return to Egypt after three years of turbulence

Tourists return to Egypt after three years of turbulence
A vendor at the Pyramids with no tourists in sight
A vendor at the Pyramids with no tourists in sight

Reporting by Nariman Amr AboulMagd & Mohamed Khairat

For the past three years, Egypt’s ancient and extraordinary tourist locales have been referred to as ‘ghost towns.’

While Egypt’s Minister of Tourism announced on Tuesday that the country has seen the most tourists in three years during the summer month of August, questions remain whether enough is being done to tackle the various issues tourists face once they arrive at Cairo International Airport.

For many in the tourism industry, the first step to rebuilding Egypt as one of the world’s top tourist destinations requires starting fresh. At least that is what was seen at the Corporate Travel Market exhibition held at Cairo’s International Convention Centre as the country’s first exhibition for corporate travel.

“Firstly, we need to forget about the past three years, let it go and start fresh, embracing what we have and taking back what we’ve lost,” said Mohamed Hanno, Executive Chairman and CEO of ASE Group in an interview with Egyptian Streets at the Corporate Travel Market exhibition in September.

“Secondly, we must go to the people, interact and network, not wait for them to come to us, because we need to show them what Egypt is really like. Besides, we still have a lot of advantages, many that other countries lack, our culture, history, historical sites, coastal cities and exotic monuments.”

Mr. Elhamy ElZayat "Chairman Egyptian Tourism Federation" and Mr. Hossam ElShaer "Chairman Travel Agents Association" revived the opening ceremony of CTM conference.
Mr. Elhamy ElZayat “Chairman Egyptian Tourism Federation” and Mr. Hossam ElShaer “Chairman Travel Agents Association” revived the opening ceremony of CTM conference.

Yet, from old and outdated amenities at famous historic sites to harassment by taxi drivers upon exiting airports, many in the industry agree that change is necessary to ensure that tourists return to Egypt.

Elhamy ElZayat, Chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, explained at Egypt’s first corporate travel exhibition that these issues are the result of a disregard for legal permits and the lack of strict legal procedures and laws that would provide tourists with a more hospitable welcome.

Hanno echoed ElZayat’s statements, adding that there are many ways to tackle these problems. In particular, Hanno spoke of the lack of amenities at sites such as the Pyramids of Giza or the broken toilets at many of Cairo International Airport’s terminals.

“[Airports are] the first and last impression. There are so many things that can be done to fix this as it is in fact a serious problem. We should also take into consideration the opinions of the employees who actually work there. Moreover, we could use technology in evolving cleanliness and hygiene, and maybe build portable bathrooms,” stated Hanno to Egyptian Streets.

The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. Credit: Bertrand Rieger/Hemis via Corbis
The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. Credit: Bertrand Rieger/Hemis via Corbis

In an effort to tackle this, ElZayat told the Associated Press in September that the government plans to place janitorial services under private sector supervision.

Another issue that has often left tourists with a bad taste, often resulting in complaints to Egyptian embassies and consulates across the globe, is the scamming that many visitors face at the hands of vendors.

At the site of the last remaining ancient world wonder, the Great Pyramid of Giza, visitors often encounter hordes of men that attempt to prevent visitors from accessing the Pyramids and instead rent a horse or camel. These men, who can be aggressive, are often observed with disregard by security forces who stand just meters away at the entrance of the complex.

Similar aggressiveness is witnessed by visitors in Luxor, Aswan and other locales where vendors, attempting to make a living, harass visitors into purchasing souvenirs.

“This is a culture, unfortunately, which must change. This change comes through education, we ought to teach tourism at schools just like we teach physical education,” said Mr Hanno.

Despite these issues, some in the tourism industry believe change is around the corner. At the Pyramids, ElZayat said that vendors would be confined to designated areas and that security would be enhanced at the Pyramids.

Across Egypt’s popular tourist destinations and hotels, plans have been set to increase the number of security cameras and to introduce mandatory background checks for tourism industry workers.

Meanwhile, in hotels where tourists have often complained of poor service quality, Egypt will implement a system to monitor health standards and the quality of customer service.

Ahmed Kamel, the Regional Sales Director at Travco Holidays, told Egyptian Streets that complaints from the tourism industry were finally being heard by the government.

“I’ve recently spoken to the Minister about the current lack of services and surveillances, starting with the little things like bathrooms, especially for men, where there’s no privacy or hygiene. [There is also] the luggage at the airport that gets lost, the workers who consistently and bluntly beg for tips. Whereas, if you go to any other country there is no such thing, plus smoking in the airport when it’s supposed to be banned,” said Kamel, adding that he has seen a ‘huge’ difference and improvement since 2011.

With the tourism sector accounting for 12.5 percent of employment in Egypt, it remains to be seen whether these efforts will result in Egypt once again becoming a top destination for travellers.

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  • Debjan Birubhai Gongopadhjyay-

    Yes Giza and the pyramids were a ghastly experience and my unqualified wisdom out of it was totally avoid it and look at pictures and videos. The hassling is in fact the ninth wonder of the world. You can’t trust anybody esp the taxi drivers. The one from the train to the pyramids ripped me off with a rigged meter, and it was quite scary as I insisted in getting off on the highway even as the meter ran at a breakneck speed and the guy kept wanting to see the cash on me.
    The state of the animals at the pyramids was also truly disturbing and spoiled the experience. The lack of uniformed attendants/security at Museums and such make things confusing and complicated as you can’t distinguish between them and touts – I was almost ready to walk away from the Egyptian museum. Cairo itself was doable. Stick to Cairo.

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  • Najin

    Spent 6 months in Egypt as a tourist and later “working vacation” and I’m so ready to go home, for various reasons but let me address just a few here:

    Airport bathrooms are really the first impression and I was horrified upon my arrival to find those awful “attendants” in black hijabs with no clear uniform begging for money in order to give me soap or tissue papers.
    I had a long flight and was tired and I was just not ready for the culture shock.
    1) I had no idea if they even worked there and still don’t know the answer. I had no idea what was an acceptable amount of coins I should give them, nor had I even had time to exchange my money! Maybe they camp out there, horde all the soap and papers and then distribute it out in exchange for coins.
    (Beggars in general are to be expected in a third world country like Egypt however should not be the first impression inside a more secure and tourist driven area like an International Airport.)
    2) WHY isn’t any soap provided as a free amenity as it is a basic hygiene thing. I was surprised I wasn’t asked for money just to flush the toilet.
    3) Dirty water (feeding ground for bacteria) pooled all over the floor from the “bidets” i.e. “water sprayers” that the public use and make a huge mess without anyone there to constantly clean it up. (Why anyone in their right mind would use such a PUBLIC bidet is beyond me – you’re just begging for a UTI.)
    Bathrooms in large malls are the usually a bit better however they never build enough stalls so be prepared to wait at least 20 mins in a line every time. The same goes for any fitting/dressing room to try on clothes, where the average waiting time is a bit longer.

    I’m not even going to address the harassment issue as that is just too easy. Any traveler should be aware of it as there are travel warnings issued, but no one warned me about the bathrooms nor the level of garbage on the streets.

    The Museum bathrooms are just as awful if not worse than the airport as the “attendants” there wear a type of uniform and therefore feel they have the authority to be so much more pushy about demanding tips in exchange for a piece of tissue to wipe yourself! What an embarassment for Egypt attempting to be a ” tourist destination”. As I was searching for coins, one woman even took 20 pounds out of my hand and wanted to barter with me for change to get it back until I yelled at her to just give me back my money! Excuse me if I seem greedy but just because I’m foreign and white doesn’t mean I’m Miss Moneybags and I barely had enough money to even travel here in the first place and I was saving that 20 pounds towards lunch, thank you very much!

    Don’t even get me started on all the mountains of garbage littered all over the streets, including broken glass, making sandals or even low heeled ballerina flats very dangerous, as a piece of filthy broken glass can easily slip into the side of your shoe. The most ridiculous and hilarious thing is to see herds of sheep and goats in the street literally grazing on this street garbage.
    Plus all the filthy garbage “pyramids” and stinking water canal/sewer one must drive past in order to reach the actual pyramids, they sure didn’t show THAT part on TV!

    Honestly, the worst part for me was the animals being worked to death, I distinctly remember with deep regret being harassed into accepting a ride in a carriage with one skinny horse with ribs showing that was forced to carry our 4 fat asses, including the two men who owned her plus two hesitant tourists including myself in a carriage to visit the Sphinx, (it can be quite steep in some areas, and the surface is very hard and rocky.) I shudder remembering it being whipped with straps to move faster. Absolutely atrocious, turned my stomach and ruined the whole experience for me. I made them stop half way and got out and walked the rest of the way down to the Sphinx. I walked all the way back up in the hot sun on foot too as there was no way I could justify being pulled by that poor animal.
    Native Egyptians are completely immune to the suffering of any animals around them, including all the overworked donkeys and starving diseased stray cats and dogs to be found all over Cairo, so don’t expect any sympathy from them. They are just too used to the sights and sounds to even notice it anymore.

    Just go to an online website and watch pictures and videos of the pyramids, I swear it’s not worth the airline ticket. There is nothing to see inside the big pyramid either, so don’t bother with the extra fee to go inside, no wall paintings as you may have expected, its dark and uninteresting. The only thing interesting to see will be in the museum, or further south in Luxor or Aswan where the temples are located. Skip the pyramids completely if you come here, waste of time and money and stress.

    All of Cairo smells like car exhaust occasionally mixed with coffee and spicy food and garnished in cat urine! And you are extremely lucky if you don’t get sick with vomiting or diarrhea while visiting here. I am not racist that is just the reality.

    The only valuable thing for you as a tourist might be in the coastal cities, as you can enjoy the beautiful red sea and water sports like snorkeling and scuba diving for a bit cheaper than other tourist places. I don’t know if everything else is worth it, though.

    If you are still intent on coming here then you must always bring wet wipes+hand sanitizer with you at all times as very often even the faucets are broken, even in hospital bathrooms!!!

  • Ikhwanii Extincticus

    These MUST be implemented immediately

    1. Proper police at the ancient sites. Tourists ONLY see filthy uneducated village boys in filthy dirty police uniforms lolling around smoking and sitting in cars doing nothing to help tourists keep hustlers away.

    2. ALL vendors to be kept in restricted areas where tourists can go to them instead of being hassled endlessly by vendors approaching them. All items for sale MUST be labelled with a price. Tourists HATE haggling and rarely buy anything if it doesn’t have a price on it. Vendors will sell much more if it is priced.

    3. ONLY registered vendors should be at the sites. No children of vendors begging and hassling tourists.

    4. The horses and camels MUST be fed and watered! Tourists are appalled at the ill treatment of animals and will not use a horse or camel that looks injured, undernourished or dirty. The horses and camel owners will make much more money if they offer clean healthy animals for rides and have a set price on a board for each ride. Tourists hate HAGGLING a price!! Put the price up on a board and tourists will buy the product. We hate haggling!

    5. Taxi’s MUST have fully working seat belts! taxi drivers who drive carefully and use seatbelts will be used again by tourists and tourists will recommend them to other tourists therefore they get MORE business.

    6. Cairo airport is a disgrace and cannot be called an International Airport! It is dirty, toilets are filthy and I don’t agree with what you said in your article “We should also take into consideration the opinions of the employees who actually work there.” Foreigners have very different concepts of hygiene to Egyptians. We are horrified when we enter toilets to find especially women who use the toilet and don’t flush it then walk out adjust their hijab and don’t wash their hands!! Employees are definitely NOT the ones to be taking opinions of on hygiene. Tourists should be the ones to ask on what they expect in regards to acceptable levels of hygiene in public places.

    7. Ridiculous rules about tourists NOT being allowed to take photos of them holding their own countries flags beside the monuments has to be addressed. Absolutely nonsensical.

    8. ALL monument staff should be in uniform with a name and number badge and easily recognisable from hustlers. Tourists have no idea who are staff and who are conmen trying to extract money from them. The pyramids is a disgrace.

    9. Clean toilets with cleaners who DO NOT beg for money in exchange for a square of toilet tissue is a MUST at ALL tourist sites including the museum.

    10. Reiterate! Egyptian vendors will sell MORE products IF they have a clear price on each item. Tourists DO NOT like to haggle so if they want to sell their products they need to be educated on what tourists find acceptable and what turns them off to buying.

    11. Small properly staffed First Aid units at all Tourist sites.


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  • HPL

    I also feel bad every time when I fly to Egypt. If you have more luggage like diving equipment they will take you to customs and search everything in front of everybody! It´s really unnecessary!


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