With Egypt’s tourism at a low in recent years, even as nicer weather starts to creep through Cairo’s streets these past two weeks, it is up to Cairo residents and companies to gather and develop creative plans to draw tourists to the city whose streets feel like home to all.
This is exactly where Dreamland Golf Resort stepped in, in collaboration with Blue Sky Tourism, the Egyptian Friendship Association in Hong Kong and the Asian Golf Development Council. Making contact with tour operators from different cities and organizations in China, Dreamland invited representatives to stay at its resort for a week for a golf-cation – of course, with some Egypt site-seeing in the middle.
Though it may not be typically seen as an Egyptian’s favorite pastime, golf does have roots here in Egypt that can be traced back to the British occupation of the country as well as a deep contemporary history. In the past, it was perceived as a pastime exclusive to Egyptian high society. Cairo is also home to a golf tournament that ranks as the third oldest championship in the world, after the Untied States and British open, with a history of over 100 years. The sport, now, perhaps offers a beacon of hope for tourism here in Cairo. A major contrast to the bustling streets of Cairo so often depicted abroad, the massive expanses of lush green fields needed to host the sport perhaps offer some refuge for tourists as well as a counter to these stereotypical images often embedded in the media.
“Egypt actually has good conditions for golf,” explained Tamer Al Shaer, Vice-President of Blue Sky Travel and the first to open a licensed represented office in Beijing in 2002. Shaer and Dreamland Golf Club staff explained that the revolution had created a disaster for tourism, but things are recently looking up. The Chinese community seemed a perfect target community to invite to explore Cairo as they have still seemed happy to travel.
The Dreamland Golf FamTrip centered around the Hilton Dreamland golf club and friendly tournaments held among the visitors, but framed the trip as a chance to expose visitors to the exciting and diverse pockets that compose the city of Cairo and other sites around Egypt. Ehab Gouda, president of the Egyptian Friendship Association in Hong Kong and founder of the Dragon Boat Academy and Mary Lai, President of the Sino-Egypt Friendship Promotion Society, were instrumental in connecting organizations and setting this trip in motion as well.
The FamTrip group saw this as a very special opportunity, given the long history of Egypt that seems to mirror the heavily rich history of China. As children, they explained, they are pushed to learn all about the world and its oldest civilizations. Most important among these civilizations, was Egypt. To mentally visualize as a young student is one thing. To see for oneself the cradle of a history so heavily narrated in one’s schoolbooks, is something a different experience entirely.
In their last few days in Cairo, the group snuck in one final morning golf tournament before settling down for a farewell lunch at the club house, formerly home to a Golf Academy. Several of the visitors hadn’t had experience with golf in the past but saw this trip as a chance to engage in a new activity and explore a new country. Members of the Chinese embassy in Cairo made it a point to attend this event, aiming to further solidify ties between the Egyptian and Chinese communities, a friendship that has years of history and only grows in strength.
“Egypt is a cosmopolitan city and a home for everybody,” noted Dr. Hefni Higazi, Dreamland Golf Resort General Manager. The lunch hour quickly became a space for open dialogue among guests and trip organizers. Each threw in his or her background, perhaps history of traveling, experience with golf and opinions on the city. Cairo was discussed as a balanced city open to all, interspersed with people of all religions. It’s moment like these that define what it is to be immersed in Cairo, and Egypt as a whole. Around every corner, a different individual emerges with a unique experience of the city and a new lens to share. Each day, the streets of Cairo guide one somewhere new, either exposing an overlooked beautiful nook, reflecting the kindness of the streets’ longtime inhabitants, easing one into a spontaneous adventure or leading individuals into fruitful conversation with one another.
The farewell event came to a close with the special appearance by the owner of Hilton Dreamland himself, Dr. Ahmed Bahgat, demonstrating his dedication to forging connections with tourists. Each member of the FamTrip was invited to come up to the front for a ceremony in which each received a special gift for their visit, including a roll of Egyptian papyrus as a souvenir from their time in Egypt. Dr. Bahgat and his staff were presented with Chinese gifts as well, including a sign reading “Dreamland” in Chinese calligraphy.
Organizers of the FamTrip have contributed towards creatively reinventing what a sport can offer in a country like Egypt. With the attraction for tourists lacking, it is up to organizations such as these to reconsider which activities can draw travelers in. Sports, and organized tournaments such as this one, offer a familiar space in which foreign visitors can securely operate while simultaneously gaining exposure to a new area. The hope is that the sport, like golf, can offer a space tourists hope to revisit and share with others.
What began as a simple golf resort stay for tour operators unfolded into a taste of the various areas that make up Egypt and a reflection on the inherent pull of the city. “It’s an excuse to come back again,” chuckled Linda, manager of the Guangzhou Holf International Travel Agency Company. Just one week in Egypt exposes you to the natural beauty, liveliness and sense of historical significance that pumps through the veins of the country. Once one steps foot in Egypt, a connection is established, one that cries to be further shaped and bolstered through future visits.
Ioanna Moriatis, recent university graduate and editor of the Maadi Messenger
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