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Early Ramadan shifts vacation map
Published in Daily News Egypt on 31 - 08 - 2008

CAIRO: Since water sports are not generally included on the Holy Month's roster of activities, the remaining highlights of the summer season seem to be shifting back to Cairo which attracts hoards of local and foreign tourists to its Ramadan festivities.
And with Ramadan's encroachment on summer vacations this year, beach resorts are already braced for the Eid break to make up for lost end-of-season business, as many holiday-makers head back home.
Laila Fahmy, a retired housewife, who usually spends the entire summer at her North Coast chalet, sees no reason for going back.
"I prefer to be here in Ramadan as well, but my children and grandchildren can't imagine spending Ramadan away from Cairo, Fahmy told Daily News Egypt.
Fahmy's family is not alone in wanting to head back, as vacationers in Alexandria and the North Coast have dropped by 50 percent during the last week of August, according to Ali Abdel Maguid, assistant manager at Abu Heif Beach in Alexandria.
"The drop will be steeper with the beginning of Ramadan, said Abdel Maguid. "You may find only a single line of umbrellas pitched on each beach during the day, but I suspect that two or three hours before the iftar [breaking of the fast] many will show up with their meals to eat by the seaside.
Bashir Saad, who works at the Mandara Beach in Alexandria, told Daily News Egypt that almost all the city's beaches will turn into cafeterias and restaurants at night to host the large numbers who will stay there all night until sohour (pre-dawn meal) where the weather will be a littler cooler.
Adel Samy, a student from Alexandria, plans to go to Asafra Beach every evening after the taraweeh prayers (extra evening prayers specific to Ramadan). "The majority of those who fast rush to the beaches a few hours after iftar or taraweeh to play games and even go for a dip, he said.
The East Coast
In Sinai and other Red Sea resorts where the summer is a low season, the even smaller turnout of vacationers this year has forced resort managers to cut prices.
Sharm El-Sheikh hotel staff had conflicting views on whether an early Ramadan has affected the already off-peak season.
The rate of a double room in most three and four-star hotels has gone down from LE 450 to LE 360 a night during the last week of August, but a receptionist at the Naama Inn Hotel thinks that it's irrelevant whether prices dropped because of the summer heat or the start of Ramadan.
"All hotels here and elsewhere are getting ready for the Eid vacation, which marks the beginning of the season in Egypt's east coast resorts. We're already fully booked for the Eid, even though room rates and packages are double the price.
At Kanabesh Hotel in Sharm El-Sheikh, however, staff complain that Ramadan has certainly caused a slump in business.
"This is why we're forced to offer a price which includes bed and breakfast and dropped the main meal. Otherwise the bargain would prove to be a big loss, said one Kanabesh receptionist.
Little change takes place during Ramadan in cities like Hurghada which is both a major Red Sea resort and a residential city for Egyptians.
"Because it's a residential city, you can easily get the flavor of the holy month, said Mahdi Gamal, marketing manager at one Hurghada resort.
"This includes Ramadan tents serving special drinks and shops which offer Ramadan lanterns and desserts.
The scene at Ain Sokhna beach resorts was completely different. While hotels in both the East and the North Coasts are offering cheaper packages, Ain Sokhna resorts still maintain their soaring summer prices as vacationers and weekenders continue to make short one or two-day trips close to the capital.
The receptionist at the Sokhna's Ramada Hotel said that occupancy rates are still high, but couldn't predict what it will be like during Ramadan.
Tourists groups
Tour guide Sameh Ezzat believes that the fasting month has aggravated the slump in the influx of sightseeing foreign tourists, which has already been undergoing a drop due to scorching summer temperatures.
"The sites usually close at 3 pm as the staff will observe Ramadan timings. Also the big travel agencies inform the foreign tourists about the atmosphere in Egypt in Ramadan and what they have to do or avoid. This could either encourage or discourage tourists, he added.
He believes that summer isn't the time for high turnout of foreign tourists and is likely to delay the beginning of the new season that usually falls every year between September and April.
Another tour guide, Basel Abu Kheir, remarked: "In addition to the early closure of the sites, there is also the traffic problem. Tourist buses get stuck during the rush hour in Ramadan, which definitely spoils the program.
Because the sites close early they don't get the chance to see everything properly.
He recommended that the tourism authorities set special schedules and timings for groups arriving during Ramadan.
A shift to Cairo
Indications suggest that local tourism is likely to boom in Cairo with the beginning of the holy month.
Abel Basit Mahmoud, a waiter at a seaside café in Abu Heif, Alexandria, is going back to Cairo before the start of Ramadan to work at another coffee shop in Saraya El Qobba.
"It's a booming business in Cairo as Alexandria's café clientele, made up mostly of vacationers, will be returning, he said.
Coffee shop business aside, Cairo's Ramadan season boom is rooted in the historic Islamic quarters whose reputation has spread far and wide.
Currently preparations are in full swing for Ramadan: tents for the Sufi festivities and others for religious lectures are all set; shops and restaurants are respectively offering discounts and special menus. Al Hussein and El Sayeda Zeinab Mosques are waiting to be inundated with crowds in supplication at the burial shrines of Prophet Mohamed's grandchildren.
"Every weekend people come from all the governorates camp around these holy areas, said Osama El Burhani, owner of a coffee shop located opposite El Hussein Mosque.
"Just into the second week of Ramadan you won't be able to set foot in either El Hussein or El Sayeda Zeinab. Compared to any other country in the Islamic World, the festivities in Egypt are unequalled, Ahmed Galal, the owner of a souvenir shop in Khan El Khalili, told Daily News Egypt.
In addition to the local visitors who hail from other parts of the country, he continued, there are also a lot of Arab tourists who come especially to witness and enjoy the classic Ramadan atmosphere: how fasting Muslims are in a frenzy to get home before iftar; the sound of the iftar cannon and breaking the fast at a typical oriental restaurant.


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