Return to Egypt – Part 1
by Dennis Bunnik
A year ago this week I was in Cairo and there were tanks on the streets……this weekend I’ll be returning to Egypt and I can’t wait to see how its changed.
I arrived in Cairo right in the middle of the protests – the police had just abandoned the streets and the Egyptian Government had gone into lockdown. There was a curfew in place, the army was on the street and the locals were busy trying to round up the 2,000 prisoners that the police had released. Not the ideal time to arrive in a city I must admit!
It wasn’t planned this way but these things never are – I’d made the last minute decision to fly to Egypt when the protests were just starting. We had a group leaving Australia and I wanted to be with them in case we needed to change any of the sightseeing around. At that stage the protests were only confined to a small part of central Cairo.
While we were in transit in Singapore the situation got worse and the Egyptian Government, to their credit, shut down all the tourist sites and ordered visitors to stay in their hotels. We obviously cancelled the tour I was accompanying but still had a several other groups in Egypt so I continued on. By the time I arrived in Cairo the aircraft only had 47 people on board – 46 very nervous Egyptians and me.
The story of what happened in Egypt has been well publicised – the Mubarak government collapsed and the army took over. And all of the Bunnik Tours clients were out of Egypt before the Australian Government evacuation flight even arrived. Since then Egypt has had its first free elections and within the coming months will elect their new president as power shifts from the army to the people.
What is less well known and not much reported is the state of the tourism industry. And that’s why I can’t wait to go back.
While in Cairo during the height of the crisis I saw, time and again the genuine compassion and concern ordinary Egyptians have for foreign tourists – they would go out of their way to ensure that tourists were looked after – even if this meant they themselves would be inconvenienced by the curfews in place.
We recommenced tours to Egypt back in March but numbers have been way down – not that there is any real danger, more that the media likes to focus on every protest so that Egypt appears from a distance to be in a constant state of crisis. Of course I know this is just not true – our team on the ground is second to none and the feedback we’ve had from all our passengers returning from Egypt is the same: “we’re so glad we came, we really loved it and can’t understand why more people are not coming to Egypt”
Of course the locals can’t understand it either – I read this week that there are currently only 60 cruise ships operating on the Nile – normally this time of year there are 400. The impact on the economy, and therefore ordinary Egyptians, is enormous. For Bunnik Tours, Egypt was a large part of our business, but it’s only a part. For us other destinations such as Europe, South America, Vietnam and Sri Lanka are booming, however for the people of Egypt, Egypt is 100% of their business. Tourism is the key to getting the country back on its feet – it’s the nation’s largest employer and the one industry that can benefit every level of society.
I’ll be travelling for 4-5 days with 3 different Bunnik Tours groups and visiting all the major sights including Luxor, the Nile and Aswan. I’m sure it will be the same as I remember Egypt, not during the crisis, but before. The temples will overwhelm me, just the sheer weight of history staring down at us. The pyramids still make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and the thought of walking through the hypo-style hall at Karnak gives me goose bumps. More than any other country on earth Egypt has the ability to overwhelm and over-awe at every turn – every day there is another wow factor.
While in Cairo I’ll also be meeting with the Chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Authority to discuss ways that we can get Australians travelling to Egypt again. We know there is a lot of pent up demand – after all, there is only one Egypt. The result of this of course will be that once the market returns Egypt will be swamped with tourists. To me that sounds like another good reason to go now.
I’ll be updating this blog every few days to reveal the real Egypt as it is today, not the one portrayed by the media. I’m taking my camera so expect lots of pics here and on our Facebook page.