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Guide advocates a hike in Egyptian visitors

By Li Lianxing (China Daily Africa) Updated: 2016-01-17 12:49

Guide advocates a hike in Egyptian visitors

Karim Muhammad, third from left, back row, a software engineer and part-time hiking guide, on the Great Wall with his team members. Provided to China Daily

Co-founder of a walking-tour firm says tourism can lead to greater understanding

Egypt has become a popular tourist destination for Chinese, with many flocking to see the natural wonders and relics of its ancient civilization.

Yet while more Chinese gain a better understanding of that country, relatively few Egyptians are traveling the other way.

For software engineer and part-time hiking guide Karim Muhammad, that needs to change.

The 31-year-old, who has lived in the East China city of Shanghai for more than three years, says more needs to be done to attract more of his fellow countrymen to visit the Middle Kingdom, so that they can gain a greater understanding of the culture as well as share theirs with local Chinese.

The current people-to-people contact is just not strong enough to maintain the countries' booming relations, he says as President Xi Jinping prepares to visit Egypt this month.

Stereotypes still exist, he says. "I was once asked by a Shanghai taxi driver whether I lived in a pyramid. Many people back in Egypt also think similar things, such as Chinese people eat everything on the Great Wall."

So, when talking about encouraging Chinese tourists to support Egyptian tourism, one of the country's economic pillars, it is also worth noting that the need to interest more Egyptians in visiting China is equally important in terms of enhancing mutual understanding, he says.

Too few Egyptians would consider China as a holiday destination, he adds, "but every single Egyptian I know has changed their view of China after they have visited".

Muhammad works full time for a company that makes software for the semiconductor manufacturing industry. In 2014 he and several friends set up Xuantu Sport Development (Shanghai) Ltd, a hiking company that runs tours along some of China's best trails, mainly catering to international visitors.

He says the company provides a small but effective way for those who want to see China's wonders, adding that the country's varied landscapes would be tempting for many Egyptian hikers - as evidenced by the response he receives back home to his Facebook posts.

"The landscapes (in China and Egypt) are so distinct from each other, apart from some desert areas," he says.

Another co-founder of Xuantu is Li Yin. She agrees hiking can be a window to understanding China but says more efforts are needed to develop the sector. "That's why we need people like Muhammad - to bring new friends to China.

In addition to Egypt, the company's hiking team includes guides from China, Spain, France, the United States and Australia.

According to Lee, the main destinations for foreign hikers are the mountainous areas of Zhejiang and Anhui provinces in the east, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and the Tibet autonomous region in the southwest, Shanxi province and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region in the north, and Heilongjiang province in the northeast.

Muhammad started work with the software company in 2009 after graduating from Cairo University with a bachelor's degree in electronics and telecommunications. He has been assigned to work in several countries, including India, the US, Malaysia and South Korea.

He says China's hiking market is immature but has lots of potential thanks to the natural conditions.

"It's a wild experience in China, and you will always need guidance either from locals or people who have completed a trail before," he says. "Yet in South Korea, trail maps are precise and clear enough that planning a weekend hike there only takes an hour or so. There, I usually went solo, but in China that's impossible."

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