I'm convinced Egypt could be the greatest tourist destination in the world if it weren't for a troubling pattern that nearly ruined my trip

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  • After years of instability, tourists are starting to come back
    to Egypt, a
    country that was once one of the premier destinations in the world,
    with gorgeous beaches, breathtaking desert landscapes, arguably,
    the greatest collection of ruins, temples, and artifacts in the
    world.
  • I decided to make the trip to Egypt this year after dreaming of
    visiting since I was a kid.
  • While the historical sights and scenery lived up to
    expectations, I found myself constantly frustrated by the feeling
    that I’d been taken advantage of by guides, that tour operators
    were cutting corners, or that people were outright lying to
    me. 

It had long been a dream of mine to visit Egypt. 

Sitting on the Mediterranean, the country is blessed with
gorgeous beaches, breathtaking desert landscapes, a pleasant, warm
winter climate, and, arguably, the greatest collection of ruins,
temples, and artifacts in the world.

But after the 2011 Arab Spring Revolution, the country seemed
unstable and unsafe. Political turmoil, violence, and terror
attacks put a visit to Egypt on the back burner for me. I wasn’t
the only one. 

In 2010, Egypt attracted 14.7 million visitors, the tourism
industry employed
around 12%
of the country’s workforce, and made up a tenth of
its GDP. In 2011, the year of the revolution, that number dropped
to
10 million
. By 2014, revenue for Egypt’s
top tourist sites had dropped 95%
from 2011, numbers so low the
government speculated it might not be able to keep the sites
open. 

Eight years on, the revolution has given way to a tenuous
stability enforced by the quasi-democratic strongman presidency of
Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, the jailing of dozens of journalists and
activists, and occasional terror-related incidents in Sinai,
outside Cairo, and on the western border with Libya.

Last year, tourism
started to bounce back
. With the Egyptian pound trading with
the dollar at 17-to-1 , those in the industry and the
government are optimistic the industry is back on the upswing.

With all that in mind, I decided to make the trip to Egypt this
winter.

Egypt is a beautiful, interesting, and frustrating place to
visit 

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For the most part, it was enthralling.

Visiting the Pyramids of Giza was awe-inspiring as I’d hoped.
Luxor and Karnak Temples, the country’s most famous ancient
sites, were well-kept and tightly managed. The tomb paintings in
the Valley Of The Kings, rich with yellows, blues, and reds from
thousands of years ago, left my jaw on the floor.

And yet, I couldn’t wait to leave.

By the day of my flight out, I was exhausted and frustrated.
Dozens of tourists I met over my one month in the country expressed
a similar feeling. The same joke was made repeatedly: “I love the
Egypt of thousands of years ago, but I can’t stand Egypt
today.”

Nearly every tourist I spoke to was referring to the same issue.
Throughout his or her trip, they’d felt taken advantage of by
guides, had tours where operators cut corners, or were outright
lied to. 

Such issues do not only happen in Egypt. But the frequency with
which I — and others I spoke to — experienced these issues made
me think it was more than my isolated experience or a few bad
apples.

I was constantly arguing to get things I’d already paid
for

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Let me walk you through one of the dozen experiences that
happened to me while in Egypt.

I traveled to upper Egypt for a five-day tour to all the major
sites in the region and a cruise up the Nile. I normally don’t
take tours, preferring to explore on my own. But Egypt’s lack of
infrastructure makes tours the easiest way to see the country —
even for seasoned backpackers — and put money in the hands of
regular Egyptians.

The tour started off ominously when I arrived in Aswan, a small
town that serves as a jumping off point. My local guide started the
tour of the nearby Philae Temple five hours later than scheduled so
he could add an additional traveler to our tour after their late
arrival, leaving us with less than an hour to see the temple before
it closed.

The following day, I woke up at 4 a.m. to drive four hours with
a different guide to Abu Simbel temple near the border with Sudan.
When we got there, we were told we’d only have an hour to see it,
rather than two hours as promised. The tour group argued until the
guide relented.

I’d woken up at 4 a.m. for that tour so we could drive back to
Aswan in time to catch my Nile cruise ship before it sailed that
afternoon. When we got back, another guide checked me into the
cruise ship and reiterated that the ship would leave shortly after
lunch so that we could see Kom Ombo Temple that evening.

I went downstairs, had lunch, and then went to my room to relax
while the boat sailed. An hour passed, then two, and then three.
The sun was setting and the boat still hadn’t sailed.

In the lobby, I asked the cruise ship director why we hadn’t
sailed. He looked at me, confused. “We don’t sail on
Wednesdays. We sail on Thursdays,” he said. When I complained
that my guide had said we’d sail that day and that the itinerary
was contingent upon that schedule, he shrugged. “I only manage
the ship. I don’t know about your tour company, but everyone in
Aswan and Luxor knows we sail on Thursdays,” he said.

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Leaving aside that two different guides seemed to have lied to
me, the cruise ship’s itinerary meant I would have less than a day
to see Luxor, the location of Egypt’s most treasured archeological
sites and the main reason I took the tour. My itinerary had called
for two full days, already tight with what I planned to see.

When I got to Luxor on Friday night, my guide there, a man named
Reda, conceded that completing everything in the Luxor itinerary
— a hot-air balloon ride and visits to Luxor Temple, Karnak
Temple, the Valley of the Kings, and Hatshetsupt Temple — in time
for my afternoon bus on Saturday was likely impossible.

He called his manager, who told me that it had been out of his
control that the boat left a day late and he’d had no idea. When
I told him the cruise ship director said every guide and company
knows the boat sails from Aswan on Thursdays, he offered to put me
up for a night in Luxor so I could get two days in the city as
promised.

Thankfully, I could afford to add a day to my itinerary. But I
met many others on the cruise in a similar situation who had no
such wiggle room. They were on meticulously planned one-week or
10-day vacations.

The tug-of-war with tour guides turned a fun experience into an
exasperating one

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I came to Egypt worrying about safety — a worry that I can say
was mostly unfounded — but left exhausted by feeling cheated at
every turn.

Over the course of the month, I repeatedly had tours start hours
after they were supposed to, watched itineraries change without
notice, and heard I had significantly less time at a tourist site
than I’d been told when booking, to the point that guides rushed me
through temples I’d waited my whole life to experience. I had
drivers try to drop me 45 minutes from my hotel because it was more
convenient for them and tour operators lie about where our
transportation was.

At first, I thought a poorly managed tour company was to
blame.

But, as the incidents stacked up with different companies and
guides, it began to feel like a pattern. Nearly every traveler I
met on the cruise ship, in Aswan, in Cairo, and elsewhere described
similar experiences to me, and they’d all booked with different
companies or guides.

The experience bummed me out.

More than most countries I’ve visited, Egyptian tourism seemed
to benefit locals, not just international conglomerates. The
guides, drivers, inn owners, and tour operators were, from what I
saw, always locals from the town or city. Most were exceptionally
friendly and open, with a wealth of knowledge about their country
and its history. 

I sympathize with those in Egypt suffering the post-Revolution
economic downturn. I hope tourists return en masse to experience
the many amazing landscapes, culture, and history the country has
to offer. It would do wonders for helping the country — and its
beleaguered people — get back on its feet.

But I know that, while I’m the kind of traveler who has the
flexibility to deal with those aggravations, others may go home
feeling that visiting Egypt isn’t worth the hassle.

That’s bad news for everybody.


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Source: FS – All-Travel destinations-News
I'm convinced Egypt could be the greatest tourist destination in the world if it weren't for a troubling pattern that nearly ruined my trip