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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Egyptian Tourist Industry Still In A State Of Collapse-- A Matter of Safety

People have been visiting Egypt since before records were kept. But with all my traveling all over the world, I didn't make it there until 1991 or something like that. It's not really on the way anyplace. It's its own destination-- and a worthwhile one for sure, obviously. The food's nothing to write home about, unfortunately, but the history, the culture, the people and the sites... all make it more than worth the time and effort. But U.S. tourists have almost completely stopped going there now. It's just considered too unsafe by most American tourists and travel agents. In 2005, Egypt had around 5.5 million foreign tourists. By 2008 that had jumped to 12.8 million, bringing in around $11 billion and employing approximately 12% of the country's workforce. It peaked at 14.7 million tourists in 2010 (with $12.5 billion in revenue). It's been seriously downhill in the last couple of years.

And that's not because some sharks off Sharm el-Sheikh developed a fondness for Germans, Russians and Ukrainians. Wrecking the country's tourism industry hasn't been a goal of sharks; it has been a goal of revolutionaries. The 2013 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report was another bad blow to Egypt's tourist sector. It ranks 85th in the world, between Colombia and the Dominican Republic, not as highly recommended as trouble spots like Sri Lanka, India, Israel, Lebanon, Mexico and Azerbaijan... but still a better bet than places with open warfare, like Mali, Syria, Yemen, Burundi and Pakistan. A consideration that hurt Egypt was the safety and security category which looks at "the costliness of common crime and violence as well as terrorism" and considers road the prevalence of road accidents and the reliability of police.
It is perhaps little wonder that tourists are spooked — amid ongoing political unrest, Molotov cocktails, gunfire and tear gas have become almost commonplace in some areas.

Two years after the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, protesters still return to Cairo’s Tahrir Square-- where it all began-- to demonstrate against the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and lament the country’s failing economy.

Earlier this month, Bedouin gunmen kidnapped a British couple who were on their way to the glittering beaches of Sharm El Sheikh. They were quickly released, but Bedouins have taken other hostages and also attacked police stations and blocked access to towns to show their discontent with what they see as their poor treatment by Cairo.

Last month, thugs attacked and entered the InterContinental hotel in Cairo, forcing it to close down while it implemented heightened security measures.

...Emile Asaad, manager of an American Express travel agency in the ancient city of Luxor, home to King Tut's tomb and the famous temples of Luxor and Karnak, said that “the important thing is that when people need to walk in the street they want to feel safe."

"We have over 400 boats on the Nile, there is still 20 to 25 percent occupancy on some of the most popular boats, but others are just sitting and not operating," he said. "We don't know how the future looks."

...[T]ravel companies said many people were staying away.

Bob Atkinson, a travel expert with the U.K.-based price-comparison website, said unrest in Egypt had "seriously affected the tourist trade."

"The Arab uprisings very much put the Egypt market into a tailspin," he said. Flavia Jaber, owner of Toronto-based company Road to Travel, which includes Road to Egypt, said that "our business to Egypt is dead in the water at the moment."

"People are not going to Egypt right now, at least not from North America," she said.
I've told the story many times how Roland and I arrived in Egypt a day after a massacre of tourists near Luxor. The whole country emptied out of tourists. We had the whole place to ourselves. It was just "too dangerous." We literally shared a gigantic Nile luxury liner with 2 other people-- instead of 200. It was one of the best trips we had ever taken-- and it wouldn't have been if it was packed with tourists. And we never felt unsafe anywhere for one second. Is it more dangerous than Manhattan? I'm not sure-- but I would take the same precautions... and Egypt is a lot less expensive. It's the fourth cheapest tourist destination in the world. Everything is a bargain... as long as you're not in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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