Today I leave Cairo.I will miss it. Aside from the +30C difference in temperature, I find that I really like the people of this country. There ispassion in the Egyptian culture. You can feel it, even despite the omnipresent unease that still exists since the revolution.
Tourism plays a big role in Egypt, with its ancient culture and majestic pyramids. It has been hit hard as travellers are opting for other, more stable destinations. There’s another thing, as well, that is having a negative effect on tourism. Something that is eminently fixable. There is a lot they could do to improve customer experience in the high tourism areas.
The last time I was here, I took a couple of hours to visit Giza and take in the pyramids. They are breathtaking. Truly inspiring. What could have, and should have been a truly memorable experience, however, was thwarted by the large number of hawkers and beggars at every turn. There was reallyno opportunity to just stand there and take in the majesty of these magnificent structures. Someone was always there, pointing and pulling and talking – trying to sell anything from cheap trinkets to postcards to water.
Now, the truth is, there is a great deal of abject poverty in this country. And these individuals are trying to do nothing more than feed their families. They have a right to be there. It is, after all, their country and their heritage. The problem, of course, is that they deter the very tourists that they rely on. So, what’s the balance?
Maybe the best balance I’ve seen was in our visit several years ago to Siem Reap in Cambodia – a country that suffers poverty perhaps even more than Egypt. There, we had the opportunity to explore the amazing Ankor Wat and Ankor Tom world heritage sites.Around the sites,the Cambodian government had created a perimeter. Outside the perimeter was a thick gauntlet of street vendors, hawkers and child beggars, trying to make the best of the steady stream of tourists. But once inside the site, one was free to take in the beauty, unfettered,and explore the amazing history and architecture.
The difference? Well, my wife and I are eager to go back to Siem Reap. But here, this week, I passed up some spare time to go back to what might be the world’s oldest archaeological site – simply because I knew I wasn’t really going to be able to enjoy it. To put this in perspective, I travel a lot, and am relatively undaunted by such things. If someone like me is deterred from returning, what about the average tourist?