Egypt Replaces Locals With Global Travel Influencers to Boost Tourism – Skift

Vietnamese travel and lifestyle influencer Bé Hà Nguyen can be seen on her official Instagram page frolicking at a Red Sea beach resort in a bikini while embracing her partner for a kiss in Cairo — all under the #ExperienceEgypt hashtag in scenes that you typically wouldn’t see in a country like Egypt.

That’s because Egyptian authorities are intolerant of such displays of personal freedom, while state media is critical and sometimes incites hatred against women or LGBTQ+ individuals for engaging in what most people around the world would consider everyday behavior.

But for authorities, Ngyuen is an influencer who comes with clout — a following of over 515,000 users on Instagram and media connections back home. Nguyen, who lives in Prague, visited Egypt earlier this month as part of the Ministry of Tourism’s campaign to market the country in a post-pandemic world.

The ministry, officially known on Twitter and Instagram as @ExperienceEgypt, invited a group of vloggers and influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers to post pictures and videos from various scenic locations.

While Egypt may have a lot to offer when it comes to beautiful destinations, from its pristine Red Sea coastline to white desert dunes in Al Farafra, the campaign felt out of touch and far-removed from reality due to the pandemic, as well as ongoing human rights abuses in the Arab world’s most populous country.

“Though there is still much work to be done, it is safe to say that society and the industry as a whole are moving away from tolerating influencer content that completely ignores all levels of social, political, and environmental injustices,” said Carol Cain, a New York-based communications guru and founder of PR firm Brave World Media.

Both the tourism ministry and Ngyuen didn’t respond to Skift’s repeated requests for comment.

With over 10,000 deaths from the pandemic and almost 180,000 reported cases of Covid-19, tourism revenues in Egypt fell nearly 68 percent in 2020.

In 2019, the country’s tourism sector contributed $30.6 billion (EGP 496.4 billion) to the overall gross domestic product.

Since the political upheaval that followed after Egypt’s 2011 uprising, it took years for the sector to recover.

Tourism in the Sinai Peninsula had also faced difficulties after the uprising, including sporadic militant attacks and the crash of a Russian passenger jet in 2015.

Earlier this month, authorities even built a 36-kilometer concrete and wire barrier encircling Sharm el-Sheikh on the southern tip of the Sinai to help protect tourism at the popular Red Sea resort.

Double Standards

In Egypt, leisure and luxury tourists are the most sought-after because they account for roughly 86 percent of visitor spending.

“Foreign tourists spend more than local travelers. They also pay in dollars and the government likes foreign currency,” said Mohamed Turisi, an Egyptian travel influencer and photographer.

Turisi, who was first interviewed by Skift in 2019, estimates that out of his 75,000 followers on Instagram, about 90 percent are foreigners — mainly Americans and Europeans interested in Egyptian tourism and travel photography, he said.

The 27-year-old self-taught tour planner uses Instagram to reach followers and clients, and is currently pursuing a two-year diploma in Tourist Guidance and Hospitality at Cairo-based Helwan University. He said he wanted to use the pandemic pause to prepare for new opportunities when the sector recovers.

Mohamed Turisi stops for a selfie with his clients and some locals in Dahshur, Egypt.

He said he’s not surprised that not many Egyptian travel influencers were invited to participate in the ministry’s campaign.

“That’s because we don’t cater to luxury tourists — these are the type of visitors that Egypt is seeking to revive travel after the pandemic,” he said.

“Egypt also treats locals one way, and foreigners in another,” he added, matter-of-factly.

This means that the government has no problem with influential internationals kissing or dancing in skimpy swimsuits, so as long as they do it while promoting the country.

At the height of the global pandemic last year, this kind of double standard especially stood out when authorities launched a massive campaign to crackdown on women influencers from Egypt’s working class.

With millions of followers on social media, the women became celebrities on TikTok, Instagram and other platforms with videos they posted of themselves lip-syncing, dancing, and singing playfully. Two of them, Haneen Hossam and Mawada el-Adham, were 20 and 22 when they were convicted and slapped with two years in prison in July 2020.

“These women are hits among influencers and young people alike,” said one Egyptian travel influencer who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. “After being released from prison, they’re coming back stronger. We all look forward to the kind of fun content they continue to bring.”

At the time of their arrests, the Egyptian women were charged with “violating family values” and inciting “debauchery.”

“When a society is governed by ‘morality leaders,’ these laws not only statistically silence women but also endanger them. And there is no clear evidence that foreign women wouldn’t be held by these very real, albeit loosely defined standards or be subjected to the same threats,” said Cain from Brave World Media.

Egypt often uses vague morality laws arbitrarily to crackdown on individuals unaffiliated with the state. This sends a message that only women and celebrities who agree to collaborate with the state or behave within certain boundaries are allowed to dress or behave how they please.

“This is the unspoken rule,” one young travel influencer said anonymously. “If the government allows women from the working class of society to have such basic freedoms, then others from the lower-middle-income classes will think it’s acceptable; the government doesn’t want that because it could create massive social change.”

Conscience Tourism

Change, however, is inevitable in the world of travel, particularly as more young people and women are taking part in a global awakening against injustice and racism. Egypt and the wider Middle East region are no different.

Despite the Egyptian tourism authority’s campaign to project an idealized version of society that simply doesn’t exist, Egyptian travel photographers and vloggers say they still love to promote their country’s picturesque destinations and will continue to do so on their own.

Budding travel influencer Yousef ElAbd says he still does what he can part-time to promote tourism and also collaborate with local travel agencies for private photoshoots.

ElAbd, an 18-year-old self-taught photographer, who’s studying Portuguese and English at Cairo-based Ain Shams University, has about 8,000 followers on Instagram.

“I actually started my own content to represent my beautiful country and unveil its beauty,” he told Skift.

Some of his work was shared and used by the tourism ministry on its social media platforms, but he said it was in no way an official collaboration.

“Experience Egypt follows me on Instagram, but until now they haven’t officially reached out, and unfortunately we haven’t worked together,” he added.

Photo Credit: Egypt lost nearly 68 percent of tourism revenues in 2020. (Beach in Egypt Pictured) Anton Petrus / Getty

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B.C. woman replaces international travel with SkyTrain adventures around Metro Vancouver

When pandemic travel bans put an end to Rachel Marshik’s annual travel plans, she wrote out the names of all 53 SkyTrain stations in Metro Vancouver and tossed the pieces of paper in a bowl for a project aimed at satisfying her wanderlust.

Every day last summer, the 35-year-old teacher from New Westminster drew out one of them, planned an itinerary of nearby sights and boarded a train to start her adventure. Setting out on foot for hours, she visited landmarks, local businesses and Industrial parks — finding beauty in art and even garbage.

“I wanted to emulate the feeling of seeing something new, where you don’t know what you’re expecting and where it’s sort of out of your hands,” she said.

Murals in the alleys behind Main Street in Vancouver photographed by Rachel Marshik during the summer of 2020 when she walked the neighbourhoods around all 53 SkyTrain stations in Metro Vancouver. (Rachel Marshik)

Marshik said she came up with the project to try and recreate the thrill of travelling she’s done each summer since she was 19. She teaches at Burnsview Secondary School in Delta and has been all over Europe and also visited Africa and South America.

One summer she went to China to learn more about the country after teaching a class about the country’s ancient history.

“I’m rather addicted to travel,” she said.

But in 2020, when she knew it would not be business as usual with flights cancelled and advice against unnecessary travel, she came up with different travel plans.

She based the project on the way she travels when abroad, often looking up an area to visit, taking transit close by and exploring on foot, letting the day unfold spontaneously.

“You get to see things that are more unexpected,” she said. “You get to let the things you see choose where you go.”

The view from the Cambie Street Bridge near the Broadway City Hall SkyTrain station in Vancouver. (Rachel Marshik)

Marshik’s took a non-judgmental approach to the great variety in landscapes around the stations. Some are in dense urban centres, others on the fringes of leafy residential neighbourhoods while others are near industrial parks ringed by thoroughfares.

She saw people out and about, beautiful gardens, heritage homes and public art, but also dumped garbage and burned sofas.

A family out for a bike ride near Lansdowne SkyTrain station in Richmond. (Rachel Marshik)

Near the Scott Road SkyTrain Station in Surrey, an area which seems to have limited appeal to someone on foot, she found a forested path adorned with a teddy bear and a shop where she could buy South American candies. Even a torched sofa caught her eye and the lens of her camera.

“And I mean charcoal is beautiful in the sunlight, so that was still nice to see in a way,” she said.

Charcoal in a burned couch in Surrey gleams in the sunglight, says Marshik. (Rachel Marshik)

Another location that was memorable was the neighbourhood around the Marine Drive SkyTrain station at the foot of Cambie Street in Vancouver.

She wasn’t expecting much, thinking the area would be mostly dominated by high-rise developments. But even there she found inspiring public art before discovering beautiful heritage homes and gardens in Marpole, including the childhood home of Canadian author Joy Kogawa.

“It was a really amazing walk in a neighbourhood that I didn’t realize had that much heritage and history that you could still see so visibly,” she said.

A photograph by Marshik taken inside from Douglas Coupland’s Golden Tree art installation near the Marine Road SkyTrain station in Vancouver. (Rachel Marshik)

Marshik shared her photos and experiences over email with a group of 20 friends and family, just as she does when she is out of the country. She said doing it for her SkyTrain station adventures helped her keep in touch with people during the summer.

“And so it was a project that wasn’t just for me,” she said.

Marshik is thinking of other ways to feed her travel bug if pandemic restrictions continue through to next summer. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

She is now thinking about something similar for 2021 if travel is still limited next summer. She encourages others to make plans for similar projects to cope in these uncertain times.

“You’re witnessing what people are doing in all these different neighbourhoods, whether it’s struggles they’re having or whether it’s ways they’re trying to reach out. You feel more part of the experience of the whole city.”

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