The photo above was taken in December 2010. Little did I know that this was a city that would be completely transformed just a few weeks after I left.
It was late January, the end of the first week of protests, and I was enjoying a few glasses of wine with friends, blissfully separated from much more serious events. Then I heard the news: our worst fears had been confirmed as rioters and looters took to the streets in Cairo and Alexandria. There was not going to be an easy way out of this one, and we certainly weren’t going to be able to return our passengers to their tours anytime soon. I excused myself and hopped online, fingertips thumping rapidly into the keyboard. In all the texts, emails and phone-calls that fired across the globe to various members of our international team, we were basically trying to answer the same question: What do you do when a major tourist destination – to which we send thousands of people every year – erupts in violence?
As is the case with most events these days, Twitter now serves as an international newswire for anyone who takes the time to engage with it. I had started following a few of the bloggers and Tweeters who had precipitated this event simply because I found it amazing that I could, effectively, watch a revolution unfold right in front of my eyes; revolutionaries providing real-time updates on what was happening at the epicentre of an event that was swiftly gaining momentum. Twitter – along with Al Jazeera English and the Guardian’s live blog updates – was my main news source.
Facebook, on the other hand, was where our passengers and their families were congregating. Messages poured in from people desperately looking for details of their loved ones and trying to find out what we were doing to help them. And, touchingly, there were many messages enquiring about our guides. To our passengers, these men were not just guides – they were as much a part of the country as the incredible sights that they had seen, and many people asked us to pass on their regards to the On The Go Tours team in Egypt.
Almost straight away, we set up a 24 hour email and phone service which served as the primary source of information, and made sure that we answered any queries that we had on Facebook and Twitter as soon as possible. The team pulled together and worked late to make sure that time-zone differences wouldn’t affect our response time to questions about Egypt, and the team on the ground worked tirelessly to make sure that all of our passengers got out of Egypt safely.
At the time of writing, the Foreign Office still advises against all but essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez. However, since Mubarak has stepped down, there’s been an upturn in Egypt-related enquiries. We’re hoping that the people of Egypt get what they’ve been striving for all this time. And of course, we hope also that everyone who has missed out on being able to see this amazing land will be able to do so again soon.
If you’ve got an opinion on the events in Egypt that you’d like to share, or if you have any questions about our tours in the region, get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter, or get in touch directly with an On The Go office in your area.