Ottawa Citizen

Egypt’s tourism in­dus­try wor­ries for its fu­ture

Protests, clashes and a con­tro­ver­sial con­sti­tu­tion are tak­ing a toll on the coun­try’s econ­omy, writes AYA BA­TRAWY.

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CAIRO

At Egypt’s Pyra­mids, the des­per­a­tion of ven­dors to sell can be a lit­tle fright­en­ing for some tourists.

Young men de­scend on any car with for­eign­ers in it blocks be­fore it reaches the more than 4,500 year-old Won­der of the World. They bang on car doors and hoods, some wav­ing the sticks and whips they use for driv­ing camels, de­mand­ing the tourists come to their shop or ride their camel or just give money.

In the south­ern city of Aswan, tour op­er­a­tor Ashraf Ibrahim was re­cently tak­ing a group to a his­toric mosque when a mob of an­gry horse car­riage drivers trapped them in­side, try­ing to force them to take rides. The drivers told Ibrahim to steer busi­ness their way in the fu­ture or else they’d burn his tourist buses, he said.

Egypt’s touts have al­ways been ag­gres­sive — but they’re more des­per­ate than ever af­ter nearly two years of dev­as­ta­tion in the tourism in­dus­try, a pil­lar of the econ­omy.

De­cem­ber, tra­di­tion­ally the start of Egypt’s peak sea­son, has brought new pain. Many for­eign­ers stayed away be­cause of the tele­vised scenes of protests and clashes on the streets of Cairo in the bat­tle over a con­tro­ver­sial con­sti­tu­tion. Ar­rivals this month were down 40 per cent from Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to air­port of­fi­cials.

Tourism work­ers have lit­tle hope that things will get bet­ter now that the con­sti­tu­tion came into ef­fect this week af­ter a na­tion­wide ref­er­en­dum. The power strug­gle be­tween Is­lamist Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi and the op­po­si­tion threat­ens to erupt at any time into more un­rest in the streets.

More long term, many in the in­dus­try worry rul­ing Is­lamists will start mak­ing changes such as ban­ning al­co­hol or swim­suits on beaches that they fear will drive tourists away.

“No­body can plan any­thing be­cause one day you find that ev­ery­thing might be OK and an­other that ev­ery­thing is lost. You can’t even … plan for the next month,” said Magda Fawzi, head of Sabena Man­age­ment. She is think­ing of shut­ting down her com­pany, which runs two ho­tels in the Red Sea re­sort town of Sharm el-Sheikh and four lux­ury cruise boats on the Nile

‘We wel­come all tourists but we tell them ... there are tra­di­tions and be­liefs in the coun­try, so re­spect them.’

NADER BAKKAR, spokesman, Salafi Nour Party

be­tween the an­cient cities of Luxor and Aswan. In one ho­tel, only 10 of 300 rooms are booked, and only one of her ships is op­er­at­ing, she said. She has al­ready down­sized from 850 em­ploy­ees be­fore the rev­o­lu­tion to 500.

“I don’t think there will be any sta­bil­ity with this kind of con­sti­tu­tion. Peo­ple will not ac­cept it,” she said.

Tourism, one of Egypt’s big­gest for­eign cur­rency earn­ers, was gut­ted by the tur­moil of last year’s 18-day upris­ing that top­pled au­to­crat Hosni Mubarak.

Scared off by the up­heaval, the num­ber of tourists fell to 9.8 mil­lion in 2011 from 14.7 mil­lion the year be­fore, and rev­enues plunged 30 per cent to $8.8 bil­lion.

This year, the in­dus­try strug­gled back. By the end of Septem­ber, 8.1 mil­lion tourists had come, in­ject­ing $10 bil­lion into the econ­omy. The num­ber for the full year is likely to sur­pass 2011 but is still con­sid­er­ably down from 2010.

For the pub­lic, it has meant a dry­ing up of in­come, given that tourism pro­vided di­rect or in­di­rect em­ploy­ment to one in eight Egyp­tians in 2010, ac­cord­ing to government fig­ures.

Poverty swelled at the coun­try’s fastest rate in Luxor province, highly de­pen­dent on vis­i­tors to its mon­u­men­tal tem­ples and the tombs of King Tu­tanka­mun and other pharaohs. In 2011, 39 per cent of its pop­u­la­tion lived on less than $1 a day, com­pared to 18 per cent in 2009, ac­cord­ing to government fig­ures.

For the government, the fall in tourism and for­eign in­vest­ment since the rev­o­lu­tion has wors­ened a debt cri­sis and forced talks with the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund over a $4.8 bil­lion loan. Morsi has promised to ex­pand tourism, but ho­tel own­ers and tour op­er­a­tors say he has yet to make clear any plans.

Their big­gest fear is new vi­o­lence caus­ing shocks like De­cem­ber’s. Ibrahim, of the Ea­gle Trav­els tourism com­pany, said that be­cause of this month’s protests, two Ger­man op­er­a­tors he works with can­celled tours. They weren’t even head­ing to Cairo, but to the Red Sea, Luxor and Aswan, far from the un­rest.

Nader Bakkar, spokesman for the Salafi Nour Party, told a con­fer­ence of tour guides in Aswan ear­lier this month that tourists should not be al­lowed to buy al­co­hol but could bring it with them and drink it in their rooms. Tourists should also be en­cour­aged to wear con­ser­va­tive dress, he said.

“We wel­come all tourists but we tell them … there are tra­di­tions and be­liefs in the coun­try, so re­spect them,” he said.

 ?? NA­RI­MAN EL-MOFTY/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS ?? A tourist ob­serves the tomb that be­longs to Queen Mere­sankh III at the Giza Pyra­mids, near Cairo. The past month saw a 40-per-cent drop in tourists to Egypt.
NA­RI­MAN EL-MOFTY/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS A tourist ob­serves the tomb that be­longs to Queen Mere­sankh III at the Giza Pyra­mids, near Cairo. The past month saw a 40-per-cent drop in tourists to Egypt.
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