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Egyptian tourism struggles to revive

A few dozen tourists see the monuments at the Giza pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo on Sunday. The pyramids were virtually deserted, an indication of the damage that Egypt’s recent unrest has inflicted on the tourism industry.

Associated Press

A few dozen tourists see the monuments at the Giza pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo on Sunday. The pyramids were virtually deserted, an indication of the damage that Egypt’s recent unrest has inflicted on the tourism industry.

CAIRO — The wind-swept pyramids of Giza were virtually deserted Sunday, an indication of the damage that Egypt's upheaval has inflicted on tourism, a pillar of the economy.

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Just two dozen foreign tourists were seen by midday at the wondrous monuments, where thousands flocked daily before protesters launched an uprising in late January that toppled the president. Camels-for-hire stood in the sand, bereft of riders. Subdued vendors clung to their postcards and tiny pyramid sculptures.

Military-ruled Egypt is largely calm for now, despite a surge in labor protests after the Feb. 11 ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. But the nation is as fragile as it is hopeful, and fear of a backslide into chaos is likely to deter many visitors in the short term, even as the caretaker government and homegrown Facebook campaigns declare that Egypt is safe for tourism.

Antiquities officials tried to kick-start an industry that employs as many as 2 million Egyptians, saying "all Pharaonic, Coptic, Islamic and modern sites" reopened Sunday. Six museums in Cairo, and Luxor and Aswan on the Nile river, also reopened, and other museums plan to do the same soon.

The heavily guarded Egyptian Museum on the edge of Tahrir Square in Cairo, the backdrop to intense street battles and the target of looters who stole some small artifacts, was one of the places that welcomed its first visitors since the crisis.

At the height of the unrest, military vehicles blocked access to the pyramids in the desert on Cairo's outskirts. They reopened Feb. 9, hosting a trickle of foreign visitors who ignored the travel warnings of their governments.

"I wanted to see this world wonder," said Briton Paul Davis, a geography teacher who booked his Egyptian vacation in November and had thought of canceling. "I thought 'Why not? Let's just go through with it.' I think it was worth taking the risk."

Davis, a veteran traveler who plans to post daily video of his trip on the Internet for his high school students, said he arrived Saturday night and was staying at a hotel near the airport as a precaution. He had feared he might run into checkpoints or anti-Western sentiment on the streets, but felt more at ease after some time on the ground.

Another visitor on his own was Frank van Dalen, an Amsterdam city councilor who booked his trip soon after Mubarak resigned. He headed to a celebration rally at Tahrir Square on Friday, shortly after checking in at his hotel. He plans to use what he has learned from the protesters in "political fights" in the Netherlands.

"What you see here is that when you push people hard enough in a negative way, they'll just stand up and take over," van Dalen said.

Egyptian tourism struggles to revive 02/20/11 [Last modified: Sunday, February 20, 2011 10:24pm]

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