Hope glimmers for demoralised Egyptian tourist industry

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Hope glimmers for demoralised Egyptian tourist industry

Post by Bombay »

Visitors slowly trickling back after upheaval, but industry insiders say full recovery could take years

Morale in Egypt's tourism industry is at rock bottom; a summer of bloodshed has frightened away all but the bravest foreign visitors from Cairo and the pyramids, and things are little better in the Red Sea beach resorts.


Yet if the business could survive the 1997 bloodbath at Luxor, when Islamist militants killed dozens of tourists at a pharaoh's temple, it can probably recover from its current convulsions.

Already visitors are gradually returning after the worst civil violence in Egypt's modern history, offering hope to an industry that has been brought to its knees, depriving millions of their livelihood and the economy of badly needed dollars.

However, Egyptians know that numbers can never climb back to anywhere near their 2010 peak as long as security crackdowns, street protests and militant attacks on the government persist.

Like other countries in trouble, Egypt could try an advertising campaign to lure back the Europeans, Asians, Americans and Gulf Arabs who are now largely holidaying elsewhere. But for now it won't even bother.

"There is really no point in trying to embark on a PR campaign," said Karim Helal, an adviser to Egypt's tourism minister. "If you cannot convey the feeling that it is safe, nobody will come," said Helal, a dive company owner turned investment banker.

Egypt has endured almost constant upheaval since a 2011 popular uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, but things have got much worse since the army's removal of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July and the bloodshed that followed.

As international media broadcast scenes of mosques and morgues filled with bodies, governments in the main tourist markets issued warnings on travelling to Egypt.

Visitors are a rare sight in Cairo these days, even though October had always marked the start of the peak season when a gentle breeze from the Nile eases the stifling heat. In July, only about one in six of the capital's hotel beds were occupied, according to research firm STR Global.

Even in the Red Sea resorts, largely shielded from the violence in the big cities, occupancy rates are drastically down. In Hurghada, a destination usually popular with Russians fleeing their bitter winters, only 11,000 of 50,000 hotel rooms are occupied, provincial governor Ahmed Abdullah told Reuters.

A lonely figure

Nobody has felt the consequences more than the many Egyptians - from hotel workers to guides and gift shopowners - who rely for their living on tourism, traditionally a pillar of the economy and the second biggest foreign currency earner.

Horse carriage driver Ramadan Iraqi has lost hope that he will soon see tourists return to the five-star Cairo hotel which once gave him work. He cuts a lonely figure late at night in Zamalek, an upscale district on an island in the Nile, searching for a customer so he can feed his family of six.

"I am an old man," said Iraqi, 55. "What am I supposed to do?" It's been 20 days since anyone rode in his carriage along the Nile embankment. Iraqi can scarcely feed his gaunt horse and can no longer afford medicine to ease severe pain in his knee.

Such individual misery is reflected at a national level. Tourism earned Egypt $9.75 billion in the 2012-2013 financial year which ended in June, before the worst violence erupted. Even so, that was down from $11.6 billion in 2009-10, the peak before the overthrow of Mubarak.

In July and August, tourist arrivals crashed by 45 percent, Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou said. He estimated losses since the army takeover at $1 billion per month.

There are no signs Egypt's divisions will soon heal. People continue to die in protests in cities and towns. Adding to foreigners' anxiety, police and soldiers are coming under almost daily attack from Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula, site of the Sharm el-Sheikh resort.

A Sinai-based group said it tried to kill the interior minister in September in Cairo in a suicide bombing, and earlier this month two rocket-propelled grenades were fired at a satellite station in a suburb of the capital.

Anyone who wants to visit Cairo's Tahrir Square, the rallying point for Egyptians during the 18-day revolt that toppled Mubarak, may think twice about going.

Soldiers manning armored personnel carriers and riot police keep a close eye on it and try to keep members of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood from protesting. Only a few hundred meters away stands the Egyptian Museum, which houses some of the greatest pharaonic treasures including King Tutankhamen's burial mask.

Remarkable comeback

Nevertheless, Egypt has been here before. On November 17, 1997 gunmen descended on Queen Hatshepsut's temple near the Nile town of Luxor. In a short time they shot or hacked to death 58 tourists and four Egyptians in their campaign for what they regarded as a pure Islamic state.

The following January and February, visitor numbers were down almost 60 percent from the previous year. Hotel occupancy rates collapsed from 70 percent just before the massacre to just 18 percent.

Yet the indus1try staged a remarkable comeback. In 1999 almost 4.5 million visitors came to Egypt, well up on the 3.7 million in 1997.

At that time Mubarak's security apparatus was able to keep the streets much quieter than they are now. Nevertheless, hope remains that the industry can again recover, if more slowly.

Holidaymakers from Germany, one of Egypt's biggest markets, have been starting to return since last month, when the Berlin government relaxed a travel advisory that had said tourists should stay away from Egypt entirely.

Tour agents and operators said many clients were still opting for quieter destinations. "Bookings to Egypt are coming back but they have not caught up to levels seen a year ago," said a spokeswoman for the Lastminute.de booking website. "Customer interest is there, but it's cautious. Bookings to the Spanish islands or the Turkish Riviera have increased instead."

But some were surprisingly upbeat. "Weekly bookings are above those seen one year ago," said a spokesman for DER Touristik, one of Germany's biggest tour operators.

"We have cut capacity but can react quickly to demand. We expect a swift recovery for tourism to Egypt and expect a wave of demand for March and April."

Most Germans seeking Egyptian winter sun are heading for the beach. TUI Germany, along with its rivals, has not resumed trips to Luxor or Nile river cruises in accordance with German foreign ministry advice to avoid overland travel in those areas.

But the company, which is part of Europe's largest tour operator TUI Travel, can fly guests directly to Cairo.

The United States, Britain and Russia still have strict travel warnings. However, Maya Lomidze, executive director of the Association of Tourism Operators of Russia, told Reuters that tens of thousands are ready to visit their favorite destination, Hurghada, immediately if Moscow eases its warning.

Believing in Egypt

Some hotel operators, like Alexander Suski of Kempinski Hotels, expect Egypt to bounce back one day. "We really still believe in Egypt as a destination," said Suski, who thinks a recovery would be possible in two to three years and has no plans for the hotel group to leave Egypt.

Austrian-based Kempinski already runs an upmarket hotel in Cairo which opened shortly before the 2011 uprising, and another on the Red Sea near Hurghada. A third on the outskirts of Cairo is due to open next year.

However, much depends on whether Egypt can regain some degree of stability following the long period of turmoil.

Capital Economics estimated the industry's losses ranged from $250 million to $650 million a month. William Jackson, an economist at the London-based group, said a rebound is possible, but that "the events over the past two and a half years give us every reason to be cautious about thinking that will happen".

There are bright spots; unlike in 1997 Islamist militants have not targeted tourists. Cairo visitors are probably at much greater risk crossing the road through the capital's anarchic traffic than they are of getting caught up in the street violence, which affects only small areas of a huge city.

In the meantime some tourists are enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the riches of the Egyptian Museum or the Sphinx up close, without being jostled by tour groups.

"It's paradise: the pyramids, the museum, everywhere is empty because of the situation," said Alvero Rocca from Argentina, a country which has endured its own upheavals in recent decades.

"For Westerners, perhaps it's more problematic ... We in Argentina are more used to the chaos," Rocca said at Cairo's Khan al-Khalili bazaar which was nearly empty of tourists. "For us it's better. I know for Egypt's economy it's a catastrophe."

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/83975.aspx


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Re: Hope glimmers for demoralised Egyptian tourist industry

Post by Glyphdoctor »

Whenever I go to the Egyptian Museum, the vast majority of tourists (the very very few there are) are either from Asia or Latin America. Last time I was there for an hour and a half and there was only one group in the museum that was bigger than 3 tourists--a group of 20 or 30 from India. The time before that there was a large group from Mexico. I've seen another interview with a tourist from Latin America and they said nearly the same thing this one quoted in the article said about being used to political upheavals.

In fact the museum is so empty these days there is a cat wandering around inside trying to get close to the few people there and climbing the cases.
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Re: Hope glimmers for demoralised Egyptian tourist industry

Post by Angela »

My SIL came out in January and couldn't believe how many people there were from Argentina. She speaks fluent Argentinian Spanish after living out there for a while and never thought she'd get a chance to use it in Luxor.
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Re: Hope glimmers for demoralised Egyptian tourist industry

Post by Chocolate Eclair »

I have seen a few around Luxor, but it is only a few, many Hotels that had visitors for the past 2 weeks also saw many cancellations after the problems in Cairo a couple of weeks ago, so it seems that Cairo is a bit of a barometer to whether tourists return or not. We all know what is supposed to happen on the 4th November, and if Cairo suffers problems again then expect more kick backs from tourists.
But seriously Cairo or not Cairo, most of the tourists have booked their Winter holidays now, and if we do not see tourists then they have voted that they would sooner go elsewhere, and to rectify this situation is going to be hard. the other thing is how are they going to get here with no flights. I will be honest, I love the place but would not have considered coming as a tourist without direct flights, via Cairo is a pest and via Hurghada is just useless. I would have been looking elsewhere until direct flights come back on line. When people go on holiday they like the least amount of distress, that what a holiday is all about, so the thought of going to this place and changing, or waiting for connecting flights would certainly put me off. I know people that fly to Hurghada and have to stay in Hurghada overnight, distressed by the long day of travelling all the way too Luxor in one day. This is both added expense, and a day off your holiday.
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Re: Hope glimmers for demoralised Egyptian tourist industry

Post by chiddy »

Bombay wrote:
Yet if the business could survive the 1997 bloodbath at Luxor, when Islamist militants killed dozens of tourists at a pharaoh's temple, it can probably recover from its current convulsions.
that was a one off incident - what is happening now is being repeated many times - any trouble mentioned in the news in Cairo is treated as "Egypt" hence the FCO ban on Luxor when in real terms there is little or no problems here
There is no such thing as strangers just friends yet to meet.
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Re: Hope glimmers for demoralised Egyptian tourist industry

Post by Bombay »

chiddy wrote:
Bombay wrote:
Yet if the business could survive the 1997 bloodbath at Luxor, when Islamist militants killed dozens of tourists at a pharaoh's temple, it can probably recover from its current convulsions.
that was a one off incident - what is happening now is being repeated many times - any trouble mentioned in the news in Cairo is treated as "Egypt" hence the FCO ban on Luxor when in real terms there is little or no problems here
I did not write it. After Hatshepsut the whole of Egypt was emptied it did recover it will again but not quickly.
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Re: Hope glimmers for demoralised Egyptian tourist industry

Post by Glyphdoctor »

Hatshepsut wasn't a one off incident. It was a culmination of lots of attacks throughout the 5 or 6 years leading up to it. There were bombs on buses in front of the Egyptian Museum, at a hotel in Haram Street where tourists with a blue and white Greek flag were mistaken for Israelis, at a cafe in Midan Tahrir, shootings at trains, etc. There were little reports in the news about some shoot out every week, although it didn't usually involve tourist targets

What's different was the media saturation and live coverage we get these days of everything going on. Plus the number of deaths is far, far greater. In all the troubles in Upper Egypt between the police and groups like al Gamaa al Islamiya the total number of deaths in the ENTIRE 1990s was less than died in Rabaa in a SINGLE DAY on August 14.
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Re: Hope glimmers for demoralised Egyptian tourist industry

Post by Hafiz »

This al Ahram drivel is stranger than it seems. If it wasn't for the Reuters stamp you would throw it away. Full of shallow opinion and downright untruths. For example which nations undertake advertising campaigns - come to the US, come to France etc.

Its definitely one of the odder Reuters reports and with a strange list of stringers: "Additional reporting by Patrick Werr in Luxor, Ehab Farouk in Hurghada, Tatiana Ustinova in Moscow, Victoria Bryan in Frankfurt and David Cutler in London; Editing by Michael Georgy and David Stamp)" Authors not published by al Ahram.

So many sources and reporters, such bad writing and analysis, so little skepticism.

Does anyone know Werr of Luxor? Is he known for his good thinking on Egyptian tourism?
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