Violence hits tourism
Once again the tourism industry pays the price for violence, reports Ahmed Kotb
Tourism experts and officials were expecting a very promising winter season in response to the stability felt across the country after the parliamentary elections. But recent violence has made the situation for the industry take a turn for the worse.
"The winter season will be one of the worst we have lived, and the fate of the industry this year is unknown," said Nagui Erian, deputy head of the Chamber of Hotel Facilities.
Everything was progressing after the successful and non- violent parliamentary elections that ended last month. In addition, security had been restored to Egypt's streets.
One of the main beneficiaries of these improvements was the tourism industry. Sector workers had been wary of possible electoral violence, though their fears turned out to be unfounded.
Then, all of the sudden, a number of incidents, some violent, erupted by the end of last month, making all previous progress pointless. A group of 25 Chinese workers were kidnapped in Sinai, when Bedouins wanted to press the government for a retrial of some of their convicted relatives. The workers were released unharmed, soon after successful negotiations with government officials.
Moreover, two American tourists and an Egyptian tour guide were kidnapped near Sharm El-Sheikh. The kidnappers asked that some 33 Bedouin prisoners be released in exchange for the hostages. The hostages were released soon after their abduction. One of the Americans said "the kidnappers treated us like family". Still, such incidents will not help attract tourists to the country.
The most violent incident of all was the tragic death of more than 70 fans during a football match in the governorate of Port Said. The tragedy led thousands to march to the Ministry of Interior's headquarters in downtown. Violent clashes with police forces erupted, while many believed that the police should be held responsible for not properly securing the Port Said match.
"Many cancellations were made in the past few days," said Ezzat Abdel-Ghaffar, regional internal auditor for Travco, a leading travel agent. He added that occupancy rates starting next week will drop drastically, because there will not be enough tourists to replace those who left during this week.
According to one source at a well-known hotel in Sharm El-Sheikh, occupancy rates now stand at around 50 per cent in most of Red Sea resort hotels.
The situation in Luxor and Aswan is still worse. Occupancy rates are at their lowest after the closure of Esna Lock for six days by irrigation workers, who demanded to be appointed by the Ministry of Irrigation. The closure led to losses exceeding LE6 million per day.
Official occupancy rates and cancellations have not yet been released by the Ministry of Tourism.
"We cannot hope to raise any profits during this season. We would rather simply try not to suffer any losses," Abdel-Ghaffar stated.
"Foreign tourism companies have responded by putting trips to Egypt on hold until stability and full security are restored again," Erian told Al-Ahram Weekly.
This week several Ministry of Tourism officials, among other tourism sector representatives, started a promotional tour to the Gulf. Theirs is an effort to restore the flow of Gulf tourists to Egypt in the coming period.
"I believe that the only way for the Egyptian government to help the tourism industry survive the current crisis is by quickly restoring security and stability," Abdel-Ghaffar stressed.
Despite the tough year that Egypt went through in its path towards democracy, 10 million tourists visited Egypt in 2011, as compared to 14.5 million in 2010.