We are haunted by an unanswered question: why is Egypt’s share of tourism less than one percent of the global tourism market? But, there is another important question we do not want to ask ourselves.
What do tourists want from us when they decide to visit our country? We’d be fooling ourselves if we imagine that tourists want to come to a resort like Sharm el-Sheikh or Hurghada, enjoy themselves – isolated from everyone else – until it’s time to leave!
No, this is not what tourists want; in other words, this is only a very limited part of what they want. The remaining part, which is the largest in any case, is completely different, and hardly thought of by anyone who cares about our tourism.
What tourists really want to experience, in any country they may visit, is not the country itself but the people. They want to experience how people really live, not spend their trip in a secluded resort. They want to see what the locals enjoy, eat in their restaurants, walk in their streets, ride the same buses as they do, breathe in their air and share life in general. Otherwise, they becomes prisoners in these hotel resorts, rather than being tourists in the true sense of the word.
Through all this, there remains an even more important question: Do Egyptians enjoy walking in their streets, eating in local restaurants, commuting to work by public transportation or breathing in the air of Cairo?
In a recent study measuring how eco-friendly a city is, Cairo was unfortunately ranked last out of 35 countries. If more countries had been included in the study, who knows where Cairo may have ranked.
The reason for this is that no one cares about our capital. Egyptians don’t want to open their eyes to the trash, the street animals, the smells, the traffic, the harassment – everything that is off putting to tourists. If we don’t enjoy walking just 10 meters down the street, eating lunch in a local eatery or visiting a tourist attraction, how can we expect tourists to enjoy it either?
This case is not only limited to Cairo, but to every large city in Egypt, including Alexandria.
A tourist is not a khawaja (foreigner) like we imagine; if we think of tourists as foreigners, then we imagine that they do not enjoy the places he visits, when in fact tourists want to immerse themselves and enjoy what the locals enjoy.
Until Egyptians can find pleasure in life and feel proud to share it, then visitors to our country will go elsewhere to find an authentic, but pleasant, cultural experience.
Citizens’ happiness is the measure of tourists’ happiness, nothing more.