CAIRO: When the heat begins, so does the flood of Arabs, eager to get out of their home countries for a little rest and recreation. The hot weather of these countries, combined with their conservative attitudes, makes residents search for fun in neighboring Arab countries including Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, with Egypt being a favorite destination for many of these Gulf tourists.
In recent years, Egypt has faced tough competition from other tourist destinations, especially Lebanon, but this year’s war seemed to throw the balance in favor of Egypt. Predictions that Egypt would host more tourists because of the war have not always been accurate, however, it would seem.
In fact, with the summer season approaching its end, many people complain that they have not had as many Arab tourists as they have had in other years.
Our reservations decreased this year. Maybe this is because of the war but also many Arabs now deal directly with the hotels without using any tourism and travel agencies, Wael from the American Express tourism and travel agency tells The Daily Star Egypt. I don t think the number of Arab tourists decreased significantly, we still face difficulties when we try to make reservations at hotels. Most of the rooms are occupied, especially downtown hotels.
Since the season hasn’t come to a close, no official reports have been issued as of yet to confirm or deny these observations. But looking back at 2005, the importance of Arab tourism is clear. During that season, Arab tourists spent $1.44 billion according to official reports, with the number of Arab tourists in Egypt reaching 1.31 million. Tourists from Libya alone made up 22.2 percent of all Arab tourists.
Not all sources report a decline in Gulf tourism. Zohair Garana, minister of tourism, said in an interview with a Kuwaiti magazine that Arab tourism to Egypt has risen by 8 percent this year and by 17 percent in July alone.
Many problems face Arab tourists in Egypt. Perhaps the most important one is the stereotypical image of the Arab tourist as a rampant leisure hunter. This stereotype is evident in many Egyptian movies – the nightclub scenes always feature drunk men in the classic Arab white galabiyya showering money on the belly dancer.
“Many from the gulf ask me to drive them to Al-Haram Street where most of the nightclubs are. I remember one asked me how to find a girl to marry her orfi just for the two months he would stay in Egypt, Reda, a taxi driver, says.
Arab tourists also face difficulties with the expectations of those who deal with them. Many in tourism-related industries expect Arabs to give them extra money, perceiving them as sources of petroleum money, putting extra pressure on these tourists and conceivably pushing them to other venues.
Fewer Arab tourists is not the only problem for those who work in the tourism field. They report that the financial level of these tourists has also changed. I remember 10 or 15 years ago having an Arab tourist in my car meant enough money for my family for the whole month. Now they want to pay less than the Egyptian customer, Reda commented.
But tourism professionals have a deeper analysis. Traveling is not a problem anymore so there are new kinds of tourists. However, we have to admit that no one wants to pay more, even Arab tourists, says Wael.
Most of the rich tourists prefer the Four Seasons Hotel and the rest of the tourists take the other hotels. They know that they will pay more than the ordinary tourist, but at the same time they don t want to pay a huge amount of money, adds Wael.