At an emotional ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London, UK, last week Wanderlust magazine announced the winners of the third Paul Morrison Guide Awards and we are thrilled that the top GOLD accolade went to Intrepid’s Esam Abd El Salam!
Set up to recognise the difference that a great guide can make to travel experiences, a shortlist of eight was whittled down from a record entry of 170 nominated guides from around the world.
“Egypt is a country with some of the most highly regarded and experienced guides in the world and Esam has done incredibly well to stand out,” commented Lyn Hughes, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Wanderlust magazine.
The judging panel was led by author Bill Bryson and included Lyn Hughes, top naturalist and broadcaster Mark Carwardine, Mark Ellingham, founder of Rough Guides, Graham Boynton, group travel editor of the Telegraph newspaper and Martin Gray, a polar guide and runner-up in the first awards in 2006.
Guiding calls for excellent communication skills and the judges were impressed when they heard Esam speaks four languages: French, German, English and his native Arabic. One reader who nominated Esam commented, “My most vivid memory of Esam was him speaking to a local child in sign language; he derives happiness from enriching the lives of others.”
Judges were particularly impressed with how Esam encouraged integration with the local community and gave his guests an insight into Egyptian politics, religion and everyday life. Martin Gray commented, “He demonstrates the spiritual and passionate side of the job as well as the nuts and bolts. This guy is a colossus among guides.”
And what does Esam love most about his job? “I enjoy sharing the hidden secrets of my country and introducing travellers to great people. People come to Egypt with some strange ideas about what to expect from the country and its people, but they all leave my trips with nothing but love for both. When people talk on the final night about how their perceptions have changed over their time travelling with me, this is when I feel most proud and know I have done my job well.”
Bill Bryson said, “The main qualities we were looking for were knowledge, communication and empathy. It became clear that Esam has the respect and admiration of his peers – his fellow guides, as well as his clients. He has touched and, in some cases, changed many people’s lives.”
In addition to cash awards and equipment, Esam wins a bursary of 5,000 pounds, which he intends to spend on furthering his own knowledge, as well as giving children in his local community the opportunity of an education.
The annual awards were created in 2006 as a tribute to Paul Morrison, Wanderlust’s co-founder, who died in 2004. Lyn Hughes, Paul’s widow says: “I am thrilled that the awards continue to go from strength to strength as they now enter their fourth year. Guides are truly the unsung heroes of people’s travels and the influence they have, and memories they create, are amazing. Esam is an outstanding ambassador for his country and I am thrilled he has won our third award.”