The Dilemma of Tourism in Egypt: the Bazaar Syndrome!

“I know that fresh orange juice should not be served with ice cubes; but we wouldn’t make sufficient profit without adding ice,” declared a waiter at a 5-star hotel in Sharm El Sheikh commenting on a hotel guest who refused the watered-down juice. When it comes to tourism, Egypt’s dilemma does not lie in a lack of knowledge of proper hospitality principles; it lies in our willingness to compromise these principles for the sake of more profit. Under the pretext of meeting tourists’ demands, Sharm El Sheikh and other Egyptian tourist destinations have turned into busy marketplaces that offer everything under the sun.

A Kushari vendor’s yelling is what woke me up from a nice nap I had been enjoying at one of the best hotels in the famous Naama Bay resort in Sharm El Sheikh. The Bay does not only offer Kushari on the seafront; some of the hotels also allow Shisha pipe smokers on their beaches, harassment by many people offering casual boat trips is common, and you can watch people swim fully clothed in their regular attire. In the evenings, Naama Bay cafes compete for business by literally dragging tourists inside to enjoy their loud music.

Egyptian officials in charge of tourism probably believe that they are increasing tourists’ pleasure by enabling tourism entities to compete in offering a variety of low quality food and activities at affordable prices. In the absence of government monitoring and regulations, Egypt’s fabulous resorts and historic sites are being abused by many unskilled individuals applying their own understanding (too often some form of harassment) of how to deal with tourists – thus transforming Egypt into a large, unregulated souk.

“Twelve dollars a night per person, all-inclusive, is my hotel price,” declared the manager of a 3-star hotel in Sharm El Sheikh two years ago (prior to the flotation of the Egyptian Pound). The hotel makes slightly over one hundred pounds a day per tourist, and is obliged to provide overnight accommodation, three meals and drinks, which is just enough to pay the hotel’s overhead (utility bills and staff salaries) and give the owner some return on his investment. The hotel manager educated me on the breakdown of his daily expenses; neither one of us however, wanted to allude to the quality of the food and overall services offered.

Many Egyptians and foreigners who currently occupy top management positions in the hotel business have studied hospitality at some of the best international schools. Their respective certificates enabled them to obtain fine positions in the industry. However, the shortsighted goal of keeping the business afloat, even if this means making minimal profits, keeps them from applying their knowledge. Selling Egypt cheaply is a dilemma that many tourism experts and government officials are aware of – but they have not managed to come up with a concrete solution to overcome this difficult challenge.

Experience is what matters in tourism nowadays! Tourists will not only remember the sightseeing destinations they visited; they will also take away memories of the overall environment that surrounded them from the moment they landed in our country to the moment of their departure. Each incident encountered contributes to tourists’ cumulative experience; it will be recalled later when they decide whether to come back to Egypt or to encourage others to visit our country – or whether to speak negatively about their trip.

Offering everything to everybody is a downgrading concept that concludes in devaluing our outstanding tourist destinations. Tourism is not about enhancing our revenues by offering up the entire country as a marketplace; it is about targeting the most suitable tourists and offering them truly pleasant experiences wherein they receive good value for the money they spend.

The Egyptian government needs to establish a cultural identity for each of our tourist cities, supported by appropriate themes and calibers that complement the nature of each destination. For example, Sinai resorts, known for their coral reefs and scuba diving, need a theme that complements this nature – and less commercial activity.

Rules and regulations should be formulated to determine what tourists can do to enjoy their vacations in the appropriate venues – and what our tourism workforce is not allowed to offer. Obviously, these rules and regulations must be enforceable by law to ensure that they are applied strictly and properly. The prospect of spending an entire vacation in a souk is a shallow experience that attracts only a few tourists, usually those who are willing to spend only a few pounds.

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