This week the Egyptian government clamped down on what many visitors regard as unbearably persistent hassling from local hawkers.
Desperate to protect an industry contributing 15% to the economy, the government announced that anyone pestering tourists will be fined up to EGP 10,000 (£400). Some people think the culprits are affecting the country’s travel industry so badly that they should be hit harder. For example, Zahi Hawass, a former antiquities minister, believes prison sentences should also be imposed.
This new development is controversial, as people reliant on making a living from a recently hugely depressed tourism industry must now watch their step. Parliament’s new ruling allows the authorities to fine people engaging tourists ‘with the intention of begging or promoting, offering or selling a good, or service’. In the street hawkers’ defence, times have been tough with international tourism numbers dropping from just under 15 million (2010) to 5.4 million (2016), due to the revolution in 2011, subsequent military coup in 2013 and the terrorist attack on a Russian tourist plane in 2015.
Personally, although I welcome the Egyptian government’s attempt to address what has been for many years a troubling problem, I also question how effective it will prove to be.
The pestering of tourists has always been an issue in various north African destinations. Having travelled and arranged holidays to Egypt over many decades since my first visit in 1982, I do believe that the only blight on a visitor’s day-to-day overall experience is the constant, ever-enthusiastic pushiness of the local hawkers. A last-minute decision to ride on a camel, purchase a trinket or simply stand back and view an otherwise magnificent site can be spoilt by the feeling of being under siege. The difference in Egypt’s case, as opposed to many other worldwide tourist destinations, is that their government has now moved to confront tourist hassling head on.
Although this doesn’t affect our clients who, accompanied by one of our Nomadic Thoughts contracted guides, are barely hassled at all by external sales hawkers, the point is that individuals without the support of a clued-up local representative often feel under threat. This is not only unacceptable, it is also detrimental to the sales person’s chances of making a better living.
It is hard for a sales person operating in a highly competitive market environment (whether on a beach, near an ancient monument or amidst a busy bustling bazaar), not to join the throng and become over persistent and even aggressive in their own sales technique. After all, a confrontational sales manner, as well as the expected price-haggle, is as much a cultural issue as anything else.
However, there is hope. The tide is turning, and 2017 saw annual visitor numbers rising to 8.3 million.
Many people are realising that Egypt continues to be one of the world’s most exciting destinations, boasting not only magnificent artefacts from ancient history, but also – away from the street hawkers – one of the friendliest and most engaging of cultures.