The slippery slope of Egyptian tourism
Several years are necessary to develop a successful tourism industry, but it can easily be destroyed in a much shorter period, even with the best of intentions. This is happening with Egypt’s tourism industry, which reached its peak in 2010, when roughly 15 million foreigners visited.
Since then, several factors have led to a significant deterioration in the number and quality of tourists that we have hosted, and our policy of slashing tourism prices has exacerbated this downward trend. Egypt’s tourism management has been using a single tactic to counteract this crisis: Trying to raise hotel occupancy by consistently reducing tourism destination prices, at the expense of tourism receipts.
The significant drop in tourism revenues has dragged us down a slippery slope. We are offering lower-quality services that attract 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 boycotts of Egypt due to terrorism. But 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 argue that it is much better to keep their properties operating and pay staff salaries than shut the properties down. This is a losing proposition that has led to inferior services and lower-quality food, and has drawn in tourists who tend to treat 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, ask tourists to alter their behavior. I argue the opposite; we must have a code of ethics that all tourists should comply with during their stay, 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 such a code to be allowed to stay at their properties.
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.
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 replenish the number of tourists we have lost by tapping into those from countries that have already sent visitors to Egypt. Reviving tourism hinges on understanding that the industry has evolved beyond its old definition of sightseeing; today’s tourists seek novel experiences. This kind of tourism needs a certain human factor that enhances visitors’ experiences, but it is marred by people trying to sell activities and fake antiques.
Egypt is blessed with plenty of excellent tourism resources, and has managed to build top-notch facilities. But 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. 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.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.