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Egypt turmoil hurts Luxor tourism

Thousands of people in Luxor rely on incomes generated in the tourism industry, but the tourists have vanished.
Last modified: 24 Oct 2013 13:06

Along the banks of the Nile at Luxor dozens of cruise boats are moored-up and mothballed.

This is high season; in a normal year they would be carrying hundred of tourists up and down the river, stopping off at the temples and monuments of Ancient Egypt, but not today.

On the city’s deserted riverside promenade horse and trap operators are idle, souvenir hawkers drowse in the shade of palm trees, taxi drivers shout bargain fares at anyone walking down the road.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Luxor rely on incomes generated in the tourism industry. But the tourists have vanished.

Tourism was one of biggest contributors to Egypt’s economy, bringing in $18bn a year, 12 percent of the national income.

But visitor numbers plummeted following the instability around the January 2011 popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

In Luxor, business owners told me that tourism had started to recover. But then there was the July coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi. A few weeks later the government violently cracked down on supporters of the ousted president. 

Foreign governments issued warnings not to travel to Egypt and the tourists went elsewhere.

Luxor though, hasn’t suffered the violence witnessed elsewhere in the country but it’s caught in a nationwide assessment many foreign governments make of Egypt’s stability.

In Luxor’s once bustling souk, traders lean on tables piled high with displays of tourist souvenirs. Occasionally they dust them off when a rare foreign face appears in the alleyway.

'Our future' 

Aladin Al-Sahaby owns a hotel and tour company on the edge of the Souk. His hotel, the Nefertiti, is one of the highest-rated on the tripadvisor website , but just two or three rooms are occupied.

He’s used up most of his savings covering monthly rental and staff costs.

Aladin fears he may have to shutter his hotel until the market recovers, and he worries that is a long way off.

"Since we have like this problem actually between the new government and the Muslim Brotherhood I expect there will be no stability for a long time," he says.  

"I don’t know when they will come to sit together and make everything stop."

Hotel occupancy rates are as low as four percent. At this time of the year they should be well over 80 percent.

Five-star hotels are selling rooms for $100 a night, breakfast included. So for tourists who aren’t scared-off, there has probably never been a better time to visit Luxor.

On an early morning visit to the funeral temple of Queen Hatshepsut we were the only people there.

Our guide Hasan Ashour told me the situation is a disaster: "It is a little bit better than Cairo. It's safer and you know, we are in season ... It is a bad thing for us and our economy and our future."

Just two other tourists turned up while we were at the temple.

Sergio and Gloria Chian had come from Chile and said that they had been worried before coming to Egypt but were glad they came.

"We’re happy to see the monuments alone," Sergio told me. "We’re very lucky to see this without people," he said, echoing a view held by the few tourists we came across.

From the Valley of the Kings, home to the tomb of Tutankhamun, to the temples of Karnack we had the place to ourselves. It is a tourists' dream, but a nightmare for Luxor.