Sunday, August 13, 2006

Maintaing standards of guiding in Egypt

Thanks to Kat Newkirk, who spotted this interesting piece that I missed on the Egypt Today website. It looks at the problem of falling standards due to unlicensed tour guides, the issues with tourists from countries whose languages are not well represented amongst licensed Egyptian tour guides, and the difficulties of handling political and religious queries:
"Not too long ago, the nation’s belly dancers were in an uproar: Foreigners were entering the field, they complained, taking jobs away from home-grown professionals and changing the image of what used to be an Oriental art. Celebrity belly dancers including Fifi Abdou rallied and, in 2003, the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration banned non-Egyptians from obtaining belly dancing licenses. That ban was reversed a year later, however, and now shows headlining Russian dancers attract locals and tourists alike.
For Egyptian tourist guides, it’s déjà vu all over again. Enraged guides are taking a stand against what they call illegal guiding, which mostly takes the form of unlicensed foreigners accompanying tour groups in the country. Local professionals claim the phenomenon threatens not just the economy, but the nation’s heritage and even national security.
Egyptologist Aladdin Khalifa is an executive member of the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (WFTGA) and its official representative for Africa. The WFTGA is a non-profit, non-political organization, composed of national tourist guide associations, individual guides, educational institutions and convention and visitor’s bureaus. According to Khalifa, a tourist guide for more than 15 years, illegal guiding is at the top of the WFTGA’s agenda, as members believe it brings down the overall standards of the profession."
See the above page for the full article.
A second item on the same page also looks at the role of illegal immigration.


Anonymous said...

Ah now there is a joke. I have a PhD in Egyptology and have worked as a "tour leader" in Egypt so I think I can speak to this. I have observed quite a number of "highly trained" Egyptian guides giving all kinds of misleading and downright laughable "information" to tourists, most of it either significantly out of date or just made up on the spot. Rare is the Egyptian guide that will say "I don't know."

Understand that Egyptian tour guides are trained for tourism, not Egyptology. Few can even read the names of famous kings in hieroglyphs, though they can point to ones they have been previously shown. Asking them to tell the difference between the cartouches of Ramses II and Ramses III is beyond them, and there is no way they will know "obscure" kings like Taharka or Ptolemy V.

Since foreign "tour leaders" are not technically allowed to say anything on-site, the solution in our groups was to start a debate with the Egyptian guide, providing correct information that way. Another technique is to just tell the group off-site to ignore what they just heard and give a lecture on the site in the hotel bar. In many ways this was much more enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

I have a PhD in Egyptology and I find these remarks to be very disrespectful. Guides are not simply talking heads but they are considered internal ambassadors of their country. This is a role that a foreigner like you can never play.

Your techniques of dealing with guides are appalling. You are supposed to be working together with the guide. How terrible of you to trash the guide behind his or her back and then "lecture" at the bar. Or to try and debate them to make them look stupid.

If you don't like working with unqualified guides then you do have a choice. Evaluate their qualifications before agreeing to work with them.

I guess it makes you feel real good to be superior in your mind though.

What you must be aware of is that the problem of foreign guides is that there are foreign guides who are not trained in Egyptology or guiding or anything working illegally in the country. They are neither experts in Egyptology nor can they play the role of internal ambassador. Those are the real threat.