By: Nur Ashikin Abdul Aziz
CAIRO – “This place used to be packed, with a busy market area in the courtyard. “But now as you can see, you have Edfu Temple all to yourself as if it is a private tour,” Mahmoud Ramadan explained as we explored the temple built during the Graeco-Roman period between 237 and 57 BC.
Mahmoud, in his 30s, felt lucky to be able to keep his job as a tourist guide despite the current slowdown in Egyptian tourism. Many of his friends were either unemployed or had to venture into other sectors, he said.
Born and bred in Aswan, a governorate over 600km from the capital Cairo, Mahmoud was entrusted to accompany five visiting journalists from Malaysia, including this writer.
While in Edfu temple, a local group of tourists suddenly approached us.
“They said that it had been a long time since they saw tourists in Edfu city, and are excited to take photographs together,” Mahmoud explained.
THE SITUATION ON THE GROUND
The General Director of International Tourism Department, Egyptian Tourism Authority, Dr Adel El Masry said misleading news reports have tarnished Egypt’s reputation although reality was that the country was stable and safe for tourism and travel.
Egypt experienced a peak in tourism in 2010 with 14 million tourists arrivals. The number dropped to nine million a year later, during the revolution to topple Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign.
At its peak, tourism contributed 11.8 percent to the country’s gross domestic products, providing revenue of about US$12.5 billion to the economy. The sector also employs over 14 percent of workforce in Egypt.
The terrorist attacks in the Sinai Peninsula also contributed to the continued decline in tourism following the travel restrictions or advice issued by several countries to parts of Egypt.
Dr El Masry said that what certain media refused to acknowledge was the distance between north Sinai, where the attacks occurred, and south Sinai, which was safe and “100 percent under Egypt’s control”, was some 650km away.
“The government has taken the necessary safety measures in the airport, streets and tourists destinations,” he told the visiting Malaysian journalists.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
The General Director said the large number of international students in Egypt, of which 12,000 were from Malaysia, was testament to the safety of the
“If the students and their families do not feel that this country is safe and stable, they will not stay and study here,” he said.
Malaysian students, Siti Nurul Afiqah Johari and Siti Khadijah Mansor, both 24, agreed.
The final year medical students of Al-Azhar University have been studying in Egypt since before the 2011 Revolution and had no intentions of leaving the country even though biased media reports had their parents slightly rattled.
“We had gone through the revolution and its aftermaths. But really, it is not as bad as reported. As long as we follow the law, there nothing is to be afraid of,” they said.
LUXOR’S TOURISM EXPERIENCE
Located on the banks of the Nile River, some 700km away off the capital city of Cairo, Luxor is another a governorate that depended heavily on tourism.
The slowdown in the sector after damaging media reports during and after the 2011 revolution had resulted in a number of setbacks to the governorate and its people, including an unemployment rate of over 38 percent.
“This is a problem of perception. The problem is that people outside Egypt are looking at some channels of the media that depict things differently than
the reality on the ground,” said Luxor Governor Mohamed Badr.
In 2010, when tourism was at its peak in Egypt, 80 percent of Luxor’s income was through tourism.
Diversifying the economy in Luxor is vital for the survival of its 1.5 million population and initiatives for the effort have begun since two years ago.
Governor Mohamed said through tourism, the governorate had completed works to improve infrastructure at temples and monuments to allow tourist visits until
“We are also studying the possibility of making a fast train service between Hurghada city and Luxor, and another route direct from Luxor to Marsa Alam and
Edfu. We are putting it in the pipeline in the next five years,” he said.
Efforts are also being made to attract tourists from Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, to add to the list of leading visitors from Netherlands, United States, Britain, Japan, South Korea and China.
But Mohamed said focus must first be on changing the perception. The governorate through the Ministry of Tourism is working on a campaign to help explain the real situation in the country.
“We need to work via social media, bloggers and travel editors to help explain the real situation in Egypt. I hope people will judge Egypt by themselves, because to see is to believe,” he said.
EXPERIENCING EGYPT FIRST HAND
The journalists traversed the land of Pharoahs in nine days, visiting various historical places in different cities and governorates such as Cairo,
Aswan, Luxor and Alexandria.
There were many security stops along the way. The heightened security at the airports was in line with the government’s efforts and seriousness in ensuring the safety of the locals and tourists.
The euphoria of seeing the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Valley of the Kings was slightly marred by the sadness the writer felt upon observing the uninspiring number of tourists that visited the sites.
It certainly was not befitting the magnificence of the structures, one of which was a Wonder of the World.
A bright side to it, however, was the shorter queuing time for tourists. This meant that tourists now had more time to enjoy and explore the hidden gems of Egypt, making it the right time for tourists to visit the country. -BERNAMA