In 2011 unrest in Egypt caused a dramatic decline of the tourism industry. Two years later, the impact on the industry has yet to recover. As I walked the streets of Cairo and passed through many of the sites I was bombarded by sellers of this-and-that and guides who claimed unique knowledge of famous landmarks. I couldn’t help but feel the strain on their economy through these street interactions and was very much reminded of Nepal in 2004. At that time Nepal was in the heat of a Maoist revolt that crippled their industry for a 10-year span. It was only in 2011 when tourism began to pick back up again and things returned back to ‘normal’.
To see such economies so reliant on tourism is a sad state of affairs. While tourism is a tool that can aid communities in finding alternative sources of income and rounding out their portfolio in terms of income generation, it can be harmful to throw all their eggs in one basket. Prioritizing the industry can also transform local culture, which solely caters to foreigners, and distracts from the indigenous culture that was so attractive in the first place.
What is the answer? I think a careful planning process can aid in avoiding the risk factors associated with the tourism industry. Establish limitations on development as to maintain a healthy vibrant industry. Ensure that local communities are exploring other options to stimulate their economy so that over-reliance on the industry is minimized. Create a quality control program that ensures local cultures stay in tact while unique experiences are provided for visitors. These are just a few examples of things that could be considered in tourism planning. By committing to a planning process you avoid unrestricted tourism, which has negative effects on the environmental, economic, and social capital of a site/region.
As Nepal did, I believe Egypt will also eventually recover from their tainted reputation of political instability, and the tourism industry will again prosper as it did before. However, this macro-view does not account for the individual shopkeepers, business owners and the like that lost so much during the hard times. Many lost their jobs, homes, were not able to provide for their families, etc. It is for their sake that planning is so important and that the extent of a country’s reliance on tourism should be carefully considered.