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Unrest delivers huge blow to Egypt tourism

By Kirsten Grieshaber

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Aug. 22 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

"We have offered individual solutions for tourists who are worried and want to go home early," said Braun of TUI, which had about 6,000 customers at Red Sea resorts last week. "But so far fewer than 100 tourists have taken us up on the offer and cut short their vacations."

Some hardy souls are still traveling to Egypt, either because they believe they can avoid trouble or because they can't cancel without a penalty.

"We had already reserved in less stormy times," said Giuseppe Giordano as he waited with a friend to check in Tuesday at Rome's airport for an EgyptAir flight to Cairo. "Newspapers and television often exaggerate. Often, only being there can one really understand what's going on."

Those who do venture to Egypt will find restaurants and bars closing early due to a curfew in Cairo and many other areas except the Red Sea. Folklore shows and cultural events have been canceled. Museums are open for just a few hours a day.

"There will be losses on all sides, from the souvenir vendors in Egypt to the hotel and bus operators and airlines to the travel agencies in Germany," said Torsten Schaefer of the German Travel Association. "It's too early to say how high the losses will be, but certainly there will be massive cuts for the population in Egypt and livelihoods will be destroyed."

The crisis facing Egyptian tourism flared just as the industry was rebounding: Last year, 11.5 million foreigners visited Egypt, a 17 percent increase from the 9.8 million in 2011.

Egyptian officials, tourism employees and foreign travel agents are hopeful this will happen again once stability returns.

"Egypt is a remarkable destination that many older Americans have on their 'bucket lists' so there will be pent-up demand for travel there when the time comes to return," said Priscilla O'Reilly of the U.S.-based Overseas Adventure Travel.

Pamela Lassers of Abercrombie & Kent USA said that over the years "we have seen many ups and downs in the Middle East" and that the U.S. industry believes that eventually Egypt "will once again be welcoming travelers to the country's many World Heritage sites."

That's small comfort to Youssef, the boat operator who is among the millions of Egyptians who rely on tourism for their livelihood.

With the tourists gone, Youssef has taken a job as a security guard at a store. The $43 he earns there each month provides for 10 people, including his wife, their four children and his sister and her three.

"Everyone is borrowing from everyone," he said. "I swear to God, we are not living."

Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Associated Press writers Robert H. Reid in Berlin, Michele Barbero in Rome, Lori Hinnant in Paris, Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki, Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.

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