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07/09/2013

Luxor loses lustre for wary tourists

Luxor tourist blog
Karnak temple in Luxor,  one of Egypt's most popular tourist sites.  Photo: Bob Wong 

Boring ads, annoying ads, just plain stupid ads.

The promotional onslaught that makes you want to close your eyes never ends. But ads that make you want to weep are rare indeed.

This one is from Hany Nasry, general manager of the Gaddis Hotel at Egypt’s fabled archaeological site of Luxor:

“You all may know how economic crisis and political hard situations are affecting our business in Egypt, specially here in Luxor,” he writes. “That is why I am sending this message wishing that we all share our opinions, efforts and thoughts to get better business that helps all.”

Nasry’s sad plea shows exactly how hard times are in Egypt’s once-lucrative tourist meccas these days.

Tourism has always been a huge part of Egypt’s economy, bringing in around 12 per cent of its revenues each year. Until the 2011 revolution, when plummeting security was followed by a nosedive in visitors.

The election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi as president went some way to restoring faith in Egypt’s stability and last year the tourist trade bounced back.

Then Luxor was again knocked off the bucket list of millions of travelers by rebooted protests that spread throughout the country, leading to a military coup and outbreaks of violence.

Meanwhile, in a bizarre “what was he thinking?” gesture, Morsi foisted an Islamist governor on Luxor -- Adel el-Khyat, a member of a terrorist-linked group whose associates were accused of killing at least 58 tourists in a 1997 massacre.

El-Khyat said he had “no intentions that would harm tourism.” But his ultra-conservative faction favors a strict Sharia code that would include banning alcohol and “immodest” dress for women.

After furious protests from the already battered local tourist industry, El-Khyat resigned. But shortly afterward dozens of Luxor archaeologists went on strike to protest the firing of its antiquities director Mansour Breik by Morsi’s outgoing antiquities minister.

Worse, sectarian clashes broke out in villages near Luxor, leaving four Coptic Christians dead, 32 injured and 27 of their houses burnt.

Luxor will likely weather the latest mayhem, as it has for millennia. Named for the spectacular palaces and temples built along the Nile from 1390 BC, the site saw the great dynasties of Egypt rise and fall. It boasts ancient Coptic ruins and remnants of Alexander the Great’s empire.

But that’s cold comfort for those with empty hotel rooms and hungry families. Their future depends on convincing the world that in the midst of turmoil, some things never change. 

“Come as a guest and leave as a friend,” says Nasry. “Just let us realize your dream.”

Olivia Ward has covered the former Soviet Union, Middle East and South Asia, winning national and international awards.

  

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