Egypt’s Luxor and Aswan governorates are mainly known for their dependency on the tourism sector, given their vast supply of monuments and breathtaking scenery. However, the sector has suffered a slump, not only in the two governorates, but in Egypt as a whole.
“The people that used to work into the tourism sector usually dropped out of school in order to work and make money,” Ahmed Hassaan, founder of an education startup in Luxor, tells Business Forward. “They did not have to be innovative or start their own project to make money. Now, they do not have the income they need anymore so they need to shift towards entrepreneurship.”
Hassaan’s startup teaches children how to program and code – a necessity in his eyes, that the governorate itself is not embracing. His partner Mostafa ElKady explains that the books they publish are used by customers in Canada, but in Luxor, only one copy was sold.
What does the tourism sector look like now?
Despite tourism taking a slump, the few entrepreneurs that are trying to penetrate and revive the sector are dealing with the challenges related to the market players.
Ebtesam Hassan, a former tour guide and current founder of an online tourism agency in Aswan, has the main tools to grow her company: knowledge, funding and a team. But a very important factor is standing in her way: “I couldn’t find someone to mentor me because most of my competitors are big tourism companies who have been around for years. So they keep their grip on the market and do not want to help someone else make it in the sector.”
Investors don’t look at Upper Egypt as a place with innovative ideas
Agriculture and its problems
Hence, most entrepreneurs in both Luxor and Aswan are diverting towards agriculture, agricultural industry and renewable energy. “Entrepreneurs are going into agriculture and agricultural industry, given that most of the governorates’ land is rural, not urban,” Alaa Ibrahim, entrepreneur and microbiology specialist from Luxor, tells Business Forward.
According to Ibrahim, Luxor’s governor is currently looking at moving the governorate away from tourism and more into the direction of agriculture and other sectors.
One problem persists though. “Most of the land plots here belong to the state, so it is hard to start an agricultural project. Also, in terms of funding, banks are not willing to give loans to idea-stage entrepreneurs,” Ibrahim says.
The entrepreneurial mentality – where is it?
“I would lie if I said that the mentality of entrepreneurship exists in Luxor, but it has subtly gained ground in the past two years,” Mona ElKhodairy, founder of a renewable energy startup from Luxor, believes.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that most investors are from outside the governorates, as locals are not really investing in their own cities. The other part lies in the perception of Upper Egypt by national investors.
“The investors don’t look at Upper Egypt as a place with innovative ideas, and hence, there is nothing to motivate us,” she adds.
Another issue is the mentality of the entrepreneurs’ parents.
“From our parents’ side, the most important thing is to be employed by the government because this is going to ‘feed us’,” Hassaan explains. “We need a shift in mentality and awareness of entrepreneurship, so that we can build a proper ecosystem.”
For girls, the problem multiplies, as ElKhodairy adds that “as a girl, people expect you to stay in the village you come from. Why would you do anything else? But I wanted to solve a problem and fulfill a need.”
Regardless, as across the rest of Upper Egypt, the entrepreneurs believe that opportunities lie in their own hands. Esraa Ali, founder of an education startup in Aswan, concludes: “We are standing in our own way. We don’t have enough knowledge and we are too afraid. And entrepreneurs should not be afraid.”