CAIRO: Feeling less welcome in London, Paris or New York, growing numbers of Saudis and other Gulf Arabs prefer the warm reception and relaxed atmosphere of Cairo for their summer holiday.
Everything has changed since Sept. 11, 2001, this is the high season, says Jean-Pierre Mainardi, manager of the Egyptian capital s Nile Hilton hotel that provides a temporary home to many Gulf visitors.
Hotels, furnished apartments, shopping malls, cabarets, everywhere moves on Arab time, as Cairenes call it, whether they re making money from, or being annoyed by, the Gulf influx.
Almost two million Arabs choose to come here every year, including an unprecedented 400,000 Saudis last year.
While Cairo has always had a special aura for pleasure-seeking Gulf Arabs, the lessening appeal of European and American cities has increased the attraction.
I feel good here, it s safe and the Egyptians receive us well, says Kuwaiti Abdallah as he strolls through a glitzy Cairo shopping mall.
Nowadays there is little desire to spend holidays in Europe or the United States because of the lengthy and invasive visa applications, strict immigration checks and the general feeling many Arabs have of being a suspect after the attacks on the US World Trade Center and bombings in Europe.
It s a real boom, says Tourism Minister Zoheir Garannah. Arab visitors were up 18 percent last year.
While 67 percent of Egypt s nine million annual tourists are Europeans who would rather head for the pharaonic remains of the Nile Valley, the 21 percent of Arab tourists prefer the pleasures of the capital.
Everything is cheap, it s less expensive than anywhere else and the weather s so good, says Qatari Fayez in spite of soaring daytime temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius. But he is one of the rare Arab visitors to venture out during the day, as night time is the right time for most Arab tourists.
This clientele lives during the night and sleeps during the day, breakfast is served at the end of the afternoon and dinner in the morning, says hotel manager Mainardi. As for the rooms, they re made up during the night.
The inconvenience is small for the gains to be reaped. A Gulf family will take six to 10 rooms, including one for the Asian maid, for an average of three weeks. For the hotel, this means a summertime occupation rate of over 90 percent.
Others prefer to rent furnished apartments in the upscale districts of Mohandiseen or Dokki.
Sixty percent of our clientele comes from the Gulf, says Maged Abdel Azim, who runs a flat rental agency that charges up to $200 a day for three-bedroom apartments.
Some owners however refuse to rent out their properties, accusing the visitors of arrogance.
They break everything or make everything dirty. They burnt my floorboards by smoking their shisha (water pipe). Never again, says apartment owner Mahmoud Abdoun.
These wealthy visitors, who fascinate and exasperate in equal measure, also spend a lot of time in the shopping malls, where the women are easily noticed by their full-length black niqab.
The girls wear the headscarf over the latest fashions, while the boys wear the worldwide teenager uniform of jeans and t-shirt.
The men, meanwhile, real or pretend bachelors, stay in the cabarets or casinos where the money flows and encounters take place, off limits to Egyptians. Agence France-Presse