Friday, September 10, 2010

Egyptian Tour Guides

Egypt Daily News (Scott Liddle)

Candlesticks, tobacco and pipes, almond paste, a flag, and a light Cairene donkey-saddle are some of the items a traveler should acquire for a journey in Egypt according to Murray’s Guide to Egypt, published in 1847.

And as Thomas Cook’s Tourists’ Handbook for Egypt of 1897 makes clear, the services of a guide, or “dragoman,” were also considered indispensable for a traveler in Egypt.

Nowadays some 13 million travelers come to Egypt each year, very few of whom acquire either candlesticks, almond paste, or a light Cairene donkey-saddle for their journey. But for the majority of visitors, Egypt’s ancient antiquities are the main attraction. And for these a guide is still indispensable.

“When people choose to visit Egypt, they are choosing a cultural tour. There are beaches all over the world better than those in Egypt. There are ocean cruises that are better than cruises in Egypt. But Egypt is always a cultural tour,” Waleed Zayan, 42, tells me.

Waleed is one of some 15,000 tour guides working in Egypt. Although representing only a small fraction of the Egyptian workforce — or even of the estimated 12 percent of Egyptian workers employed in tourism — tour guides have an unusually important role.

Because of the historical and cultural focus of many tourists’ visits to Egypt, the role of the guide is crucial for unlocking some of the meaning and purpose behind the impressive monuments that travelers visit.

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