The slippery slope of Egyptian tourism

Several years are necessary to develop a successful tourism industry, but the industry can easily be destroyed in a substantially shorter period – even with the best of intentions. This is happening with the Egyptian tourism industry that reached its peak in 2010 when roughly 15 million tourists visited our country. Since then, several external factors have led to a significant deterioration in the number and quality of tourists that we have hosted, and our policy of crashing tourism prices has further exacerbated this downward trend.

Egypt’s tourism management has been using a single tactic to counteract this crisis: attempting to raise hotel occupancy by consistently reducing tourism destination prices, at the expense of tourism receipts. The significant drop in tourism revenues that we have been experiencing has dragged us down a slippery slope; we are offering lower quality services that bring in tourists who tend to not conduct themselves well during their stay and end up downgrading our tourist destinations and facilities.

Egypt’s tourism crisis is often defined as being externally caused, the result of British and Russian travelers’ boycott of Egypt in the wake of internal terrorist activity. However, Egyptians who work in the tourism industry need to realize that the crisis is not due to the collapse of our facilities; it is more the result of a mentality that is unable to compensate for the loss of tourists from these two countries by promoting tourism from other countries in a sound and professional manner.

Hotel managers have been arguing that it is much better to keep their properties operating and to pay their staff’s salaries than to shut the properties down completely. I believe that this is a losing proposition. It has led to the provision of inferior services and lower quality food and has drawn in tourists who tend to treat tourism facilities carelessly. The result is that the bulk of the tourists who currently visit Egypt not only pay less but also damage our facilities.

Many argue that hotels cannot, and should not, request tourists to alter their behavior. Well, I will argue the opposite; we must have a code of ethics that all tourists should comply with during their stay in Egypt, regardless of what they are paying. There is no shame in Egyptian hotels advising their guests, at the time of booking, that they must abide by the ‘hotel’s code of ethics’ to be allowed to stay at their properties.

We do not appear to be exerting the appropriate efforts to attract new tourists. I am a regular traveler to many Egyptian destinations, but none of the hotels I have stayed at has ever approached me with an invitation to come back! Our frustration at being boycotted by a couple of countries has constrained our efforts to attract tourists from the rest of the world. We can bring back the number of tourists that we have lost by tapping into tourists from the countries that have already sent visitors to Egypt.

Bringing back tourism hinges on understanding that the industry has evolved beyond its old definition of ‘sightseeing’; today’s tourists seek novel ‘experiences’. Whereas in the old days travelers were simply eager to fill their agendas with visits to the seven wonders of the Ancient World, nowadays they derive pleasure from observing and experiencing the entire scene. This kind of tourism needs a certain human factor that enhances visitors’ experiences – which is currently marred by people trying to sell tourism activities and fake antiques to international visitors.

Egypt is blessed with plenty of excellent tourism resources and has managed to build topnotch facilities to serve these destinations. However, our shortcoming lies in the human development aspect; our inability to draw tourists from new nations and to offer good services to our visitors while obliging them to preserve the condition of our facilities during their stay. If we work on tackling the human aspect of the industry, we are sure to attract a better quality of tourist, who is willing to spend more.

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