Saturday, November 26, 2011

The "Arab Spring" not so good for tourism in Egypt

The upside is, if you want to be one of the few brave souls you will find incredible deals on hotels and other touristy things. Tourism in the land of the Pharaoh's is down 60% and profits from those visitors is down 66% so your dollars will be welcome with more than open arms. Plan to take body armor and a satellite phone as a precaution if you do go. Oh yes, no bikinis, or cold beer, either.

Remember that poverty and jihad go hand in hand.

From The BBC November 24 by Kevin Connoly

Egypt's tourism hit hard by ongoing unrest

Empty beach in <span class=
A bleak sandscape with plenty of sun and surf for the non-existent

When cocktail hour comes round in the Egyptian Mediterranean resort of al-Masr these days, there are no tourists to watch the soft darkness snuff out the iridescent turquoise of the sea.

Slinky music echoes a little eerily along deserted terraces; this is twilight in the twilight zone.

We were a party of three - the only guests in a 550-bedroom hotel.

The only arrivals from Europe this winter have been the migratory starlings which squeal and bustle deafeningly as they roost in the neatly-trimmed palm trees.

November on Egypt's northern coast is hardly peak season, of course, but the simple truth is that the television images of political violence in Cairo and Alexandria have put tourists off.

Holidaymakers like history - but they don't like finding themselves in the middle of it.

Catastrophic figures

Mohammad Hassin, one of the managers in the al-Masr hotel, supervised the 45-man team that made our breakfast.

Staff have been laid off and salaries cut. He admits that it's not a happy time in the Egyptian travel industry - but he hopes for better times to come when the political situation stabilises again.

"We work this year at about 40% capacity. We have the usual number of staff working here. Their wages are half the usual level. Things are so, so bad this year," Mr Hassin says.

He makes the point that the dramatic scenes of street unrest in February which made foreigners nervous didn't last - but the damage is done, nonetheless.

Tourism matters hugely to the Egyptian economy: this is a vital source of jobs and of hard currency.

And the country has been blessed by providence with beautiful coastlines to north and south and the extraordinary treasures of the ancient civilisation of the Pharaohs in between.

But none of that matters if tourists in Germany, Italy and the UK see pictures of rioting on TV and decide to go to Turkey instead.

And there's evidence that's what they did after the revolutionary upheaval in February.

Tourist numbers in March were down 60% on the same month in the previous year and tourist spending was down 66%.

They are catastrophic figures when the holiday industry accounts for more than 10% of Egypt's national income.

Salafist hopes

But, of course, if the tourist industry in Egypt is to recover, it will be in a new and democratic Egypt - and that may yet bring problems of its own.

A short distance along the coast from our hotel, we found the town of Marsa Matrouh - a conservative and religious place where black-robed women wear the veil.

A local hi-fi dealer advertises the power of a set of speakers by blasting verses of the Koran out into the high street at full volume.

In Matrouh, the centre of a governorate which relies heavily on tourism, religious candidates are expected to do well when the region finally gets to vote next week.

The leader of the local party of Salafists, Islam's puritan fundamentalists, told me he expects to top the polls.

If Jabr Awad Allah is right, that might spell bad news for the local holiday trade: he wants to ban booze and bikinis, and he believes in segregated beaches for men and women too.

Read it all

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