The Longchamps Hotel, Revisited
By Jimmy Dunn
We have previously written a review of the Longchamps Hotel, a budget facility located in Cairo, or more specifically, Zamalek. For many more pictures, see that review, plus their entry in our hotel database linked above. I recently stayed again in the hotel, which we refer to as the best budget hotel in Egypt, and I must say I had a better time then even my previous visit, and for a number of good reasons. However, for pictures of the hotel, I must refer readers to the previous review, as this is but an update. I think you will all find that it is a welcome update though.
You see, while the facility itself is as bright and clean as ever, I noted specifically two new types of guests on this trip that greatly excited me, as well as a few other odd visitors.
When last I stayed at the Hotel Longchamps, I referred to it as the Jewel of Zamalek, but at that time, it was not well known. The guests mostly consisted of a few Germans, and the occasional diplomat, familiar with the hotel due to so many embassies being located in this district of Cairo. While the hotel is still not a well known entity, which is already beginning to change.
Certainly there are the Germans and the diplomats, but the number of adventurous Tour Egypt readers coming and going impressed me, during my stay. Truly, many more Americans, Canadians, Australians and people from the UK were staying at the hotel. Not only that, but we all had something in common; that being Tour Egypt, and that made for a grand time, I believe, for all. Most of these people began and ended their tours in Egypt with the Hotel Longchamps, and all seemed to agree with me that the hotel is exceptional among budget facilities.
Now it has often been said that if one wishes to find a good, inexpensive restaurant along the roadway, simply look for the truck drivers. I'm not sure this is so, but now I am beginning to see real field Egyptologists staying at the Hotel Longchamps, and recommending it to their colleagues. These are top-notch scholars, well known for often pumping their salaries back into their projects, who require inexpensive but comfortable lodging. They know Egypt, and when they begin to frequent a specific hotel such as the Longchamps, it certainly makes a statement.
Finally, there are the other "odd" visitors. Well, not odd, as such, but interesting. Resident at the Hotel Longchamps is Hussein A. Bakri, truly one of the founders of Egyptian Tourism. Many of the "bigwigs" of Egyptian tourism refer to him as their godfather, and one may often find him on one of the terraces visiting with the elite of Egyptian tourism. Please see this month's Editor's Comment for a short biography of Mr. Bakri.
Of course, the Hotel Longchamps would not be the Hotel Longchamps without its owner, Hussein Bakri's daughter, Hebba. She not only makes guests feel at home, but also guides them. Of course, as those who have visited Egypt before might well know, many will try to guide you, but Hebba does it with honesty, explaining taxi costs, pointing out shops that will treat you well, good inexpensive restaurants and much more. Tales are told of her standing down taxi drivers who would attempt to overcharge her guests.
All of which brings me to the statement about budget hotels in Egypt that I wish to make. In Egypt, there are many fine, five star hotels for those who can afford them. But many tourism professionals will point out that there are few good budget hotels. Tour Egypt is on a crusade to find others that we can give as high of recommendations as we have to the Longchamps. We are specifically looking for hotels in Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan and Sharm el-Sheikh. Hurghada is less of a problem because they have many new budget hotels and specifically cater to a budget oriented population from Europe. Our criteria for an outstanding budget hotel consists of:
A clean comfortable facility
This implies much more than one might first consider. While the hotel should be clean, with comfortable beds, good hot water and private baths, it should also be bright, and welcoming. In addition, other factors should be present to make guests feel comfortable. For example, harassment of women at hotel facilities such as a bar should be strictly prohibited, and the prohibition strictly enforced.
Management honesty and helpfulness
Regrettably, at many budget hotels, the room rate may be inexpensive, but then management attempts to make up for the room rate with sometimes outrageous prices for other services. For example, a beer at the bar may be very expensive, or very often, telephone charges are way more than what they should be. These charges add up, and often make a "budget" stay fall
outside of one's budget.
Helpfulness is an integrated part of honesty. As we stated, many people in Egypt will provide tourists with suggestions on where to shop, where to eat or a "good" taxi driver. Unfortunately, and in most cases, such suggestions are given because a profit will be made. This does not fall within our definition of helpfulness.
In addition, we have found some budget hotels that will reserve a room for you at one price, and attempt to charge you a higher rate upon arrival. Obviously, this will blacklist a hotel with Tour Egypt.
Easy and inexpensive reservations
A budget hotel need not have online reservations, provided email is available. Of course, it helps (the Longchamps does have a secured, online reservation form). But most budget hotels can take your reservation, allowing payment to be made upon arrival. Having an email address is very important, because if one must call and fax the reservations, before long, the cost of long distance to Egypt may make a budget hotel stay not so inexpensive.
This is not to say that there are not some good, budget hotels in Egypt. We have referred to many of these in our feature articles on budget travel, and if one is traveling in a tour group, there are little problems. But few besides the Longchamps meet all of our criteria and so for the independent travelers the situation is more difficult. The problem with many is communications. That is, having to call or fax, and often, not receiving a timely reply to faxes.
Now the reason I am telling all of our readers this is because good budget hotels are rare. The Longchamps hotel falls within the above guidelines, and because they do, we have created a web site for them at no cost, and have given them a certain amount of free publicity. Tour Egypt is very interested for others to make the same efforts as the Longchamps, particularly in the cities cited above. We are so interested; in fact, that we are willing to seek them out, and provide them with the same incentives we have given to the Longchamps, including free web sites and promotion.
It all comes down to the fact that it is easy for us to tell our readers the options if budget is not a problem, but we would also like to be able to do likewise with our budget travelers.
The Longchamps Hotel, Revisited
21, Ismail Mohamed St., Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt
Telephone: +20 2 735 2311-12
Fax: +20 2 735 9644