By Dennis Bunnik
I’ve been in Egypt for just over 2 weeks. During that time I’ve travelled with 2 of our Egypt in Depth groups and a Cairo to Zanzibar group. I’ve also met up with an Egypt, Israel & Jordan group, a Treasures of the Ancient World group and a couple travelling with their 11 year old daughter.
Speaking to all these Bunnik Tours travellers there are 2 things that stand out. The first is that they have fallen in love with Egypt and are glad they came. The second is that before they came everybody from their family to their neighbours, work colleagues and taxi drivers were telling them they were stupid to go to Egypt because it is dangerous.
I call this the ‘family, neighbour and taxi driver affect’ and quite frankly I think it is absolute crap. (sorry for the language but this is a blog , not our official website and I feel very passionate about this).
It is brought about by naïve people who think that because there are protests on the TV that all of Egypt is burning. This is just rubbish. It’s like the time my aunty rang me from Holland to see if I was okay because she heard about the Victorian bushfires – that were 800km away from me in Adelaide.
Unfortunately these attitudes are hurting the very people that can least afford it. Take Emad, I met him this week in Aswan as he and his brother were delivering fresh vegetables to some cruise ships. They don’t pick the tomatoes until they’re red here – they are locally grown by farmers like Emad and the income they produce ensures he can feed and educate his children.
They are just some of an estimated (conservatively) 10 million Egyptians who are indirectly supported by the tourism industry. This is in addition to the 7 million directly employed by the industry. It is by far the nation’s biggest employer.
Egypt has a fleet of 400 Nile cruise ships. Currently around 50% of them are lying idle. And this is the high season. So Emad is selling fewer tomatoes and the chefs, waiters and crew who work on these idle ships sit at home waiting for the tourists to return.
So how dangerous is Egypt? I was here during the revolution – during the absolute worst time according to CNN. I, together with our clients in Egypt at the time were staying at a luxury hotel close to the pyramids – a good hours drive away from the dramas of Tahrir Square. All these clients chose to go to Jordan to do their sightseeing there with the hope they could return to Egypt a week later. Do you think they would have done that if they felt they were in danger? Of course not! And they were the ones here in the middle of the revolution.
Why did they feel safe? For two reasons. One, the revolution and subsequent elections are purely a domestic issue, tourists have never been affected or targeted. Secondly, Egypt has arguably the most sophisticated tourism industry in the world – the pyramids have been attracting visitors for over 2,000 years so the Egyptians know how to look after people. I’ve seen and heard of countless examples of ordinary Egyptians helping foreign tourists caught up in the revolution.
Consider this comment that was made today in response to Part 3 of my Return to Egypt blog:
Oh Dennis, we left wonderful Egypt this morning after 2 weeks (& here in Jerusalem have our first free wifi YAY!). We were all smiles reading your blog as that was exactly our reactions to each of the places you commented on. Our last free day in Cairo was spent revisiting the awe inspiring Museum & esp King Tut’s rooms (sigh) and then just walking the streets in Downtown for 2 hours. We felt so safe and, as you said, so lucky to have experienced it all with such wonderful guides (Medhat & Hussein) and without the crowds. Returning to Cairo felt like coming home. Rosemary Gower
We recommenced tours to Egypt on the 15th of March 2011, 6 weeks after the start of the revolution. Since then every Bunnik Tours client that has travelled to Egypt has come back raving about the place. They’ve loved the welcome they’ve received and they loved the fact that they’ve been able to see the sights without the usual crowds. Have any of them felt in danger? No.
The main reason for this is that the revolution, elections and protests are a purely domestic issue. Tourism operates in a parallel world and rarely do the two meet – certainly none of our clients have been anywhere near the protests or rallies that accompanied the election. And none of our clients go to soccer matches – just like we don’t encourage them to go to soccer matches in Europe.
What about the new government isn’t it full of Islamists? Yes a large number of Islamist politicians were elected and will form part of the new government. Egyptians by their nature are very religious people – whether they be Muslim or Christian. But religion doesn’t automatically mean extremism. There is not a politician in Egypt that will do anything to damage an industry that 20% of the population depends on for their livelihood. This was confirmed at the recent first meeting of the tourism committee of the new parliament – they see tourism as the key to creating economic growth and remain 100% committed to tourism.
So what’s it like on the ground? In addition to Emad in Aswan I’ve been speaking to Egyptians up and down the Nile to seek their views. All are optimistic about the future and look forward to less corruption, better government and more democracy. Many are dismayed at the slowness in the recovery of tourism and can’t understand why westerners are scared to travel to Luxor, Aswan and the pyramids.
But I have also found glimmers of hope. Haggag runs a horse and carriage business in Luxor. As we rode around the old town of Luxor he told us that in the past few weeks business has started to improve. We’ve also started to notice an increase in enquiries whilst the Europeans are starting to return in numbers.
On the Nile too the ships that are operating are now seeing their occupancy reaching 60-80% where a few months ago it was 30%. This will soon encourage other boats to recommence operations.
In his office in Cairo, Amr Al Ezabi, the Chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Authority is also confident. Buoyed by the support of the new parliament Egypt is doubling its participation at the world’s largest travel trade fair – ITB in Berlin. Plans are also underway to launch new marketing campaigns in major markets – including Australia.
All this points to a very bright future. Which means only one thing – within 12 months Egypt is going to be very very busy. My advice therefore is to ignore your neighbours and your taxi driver and visit Egypt now whilst the crowds are low and you’ll have a much better Egyptian experience. People like Emad, Haggag and their families will be grateful that you’re coming.
PS I saw this advert at Cairo Aiport – I think it sums up the events in Egypt very well.