The political crisis in the Middle East over the last few years has severely impacted on the tourism industry throughout the region but does this mean that tourists should stay away? Following my visit to Egypt last November I’ve spoken to a number of people about how tourism has been affected and whether it is still safe to travel in there. 

The local guide…

While in Egypt I had the opportunity to chat to one of the guides working in the area over a coffee. He expressed how worried he was about tourists not coming because of the recent problems but he could see no reason for the tourists to stay away. 

The tourist…

I certainly had no second thoughts about visiting Egypt, yet while I was there, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protest to President Morsi’s decree giving him sweeping powers which cannot be revoked by any authority, including the judiciary. Morsi’s opponents called his action a betrayal of the spirit of the 2011 revolution. The protests in Cairo resulted in violent clashes between the protestors and the police. Meanwhile, I was on the coast by the Red Sea, completely unaware of what was happening until I got back home to England.

Life and the tourism industry in Sharm el Sheik and all along that coastal strip carried on as normal and still does now.

The tour operator…

Scott Anderson, general manager of The Luxury Cruise Company, when asked last week expressed the following.

 “The locals really do depend heavily on tourism for their living-especially in the popular tourist areas of Luxor, Aswan, Cairo and at the tombs and temples along the banks of the Nile. Egyptologists, tour guides, hotel workers, handicraft producers and more all rely on tourist trade. There has been a 32% drop in tourism since the Arab Spring uprising, with revenue from tourism dropping by £2.5bn . 

The troubles have affected the tourism and river cruise industry a lot, with a lot of tourists staying away. However, we have recently had clients who have ventured to Egypt who have returned singing its praises. The temples and tombs are un crowded, the people so welcoming and grateful to see tourists and our clients have returned having had a wonderful time. It’s wise to stay away from potential hot-spots, however Luxor and Aswan, Abu Simbel, Lake Nasser and Nile cruises are all safe. Our ground agents in Egypt are with our clients from start to finish, and are looked after all the way.”

The journalist…

Matthew Teller, a freelance travel journalist and a regular reporter for the UK national press, is known for his knowledge on the Middle East, so when I had the chance of a chat with him last weekend, I asked how safe he thought it was to travel to Egypt.

He agreed that the resorts along Red Sea including Sharm el Sheikh are relatively isolated from anything that may or may not happen elsewhere in the country but the rest of the Sinai peninsula is not a place to travel. He said demonstrations are happening all over the country and just a few days ago all the trains south of Cairo were cancelled because of protests on the line. Whether this was just for a day or two or ongoing he couldn’t say; he was uncertain of what the situation is now in southern Egypt and upper Egypt.

Matthew had read that hotel occupancy in Luxor and Aswan were as low as 5% which really is quite a desperate situation for everyone involved in tourism there. “The whole economy in Luxor is geared around tourism. There’s probably very few people in Luxor who aren’t connected in some way or other with tourism business.” Even in Sharm el Sheik hotel occupancy is only 50%.

The UK foreign office…

The Foreign Office website advises against ALL travel in North Sinai and against all but essential travel in South Sinai, except the coastal strip along the Red Sea that includes Sharm el Sheikh.

With regards to the vast majority of Egypt (and the coastal strip mentioned above) they refer you to more detailed travel advice which should be read before travelling to the area and is updated as necessary. While they currently do not advise against travel to Egypt in general, there is some very important information here.

The Egyptian Tourism Authority…

To date The Egyptian Tourism Authority has not replied to my inquiry but I will update this post should I receive a response. (Of course, it is quite possible that my email is sitting in their spam folder!)

Have you travelled to Egypt recently? Would you travel there now?

I am sure, like me, you wish to see an end to the violence and the tourists return so that people, all across the Middle East who rely on tourism, have the chance to make a living again. However, there is a historic change happening in the region that will not be resolved quickly. Matthew Teller, who I met at Destinations Holiday and Travel Show in London, is passionate about his belief that this is an opportunity to reshape tourism in the region in a more sustainable manner; one where private enterprise can flourish. Both his talk at the show ‘Jordan and its neighbours: reshaping Middle East tourism’  and my conversation with him earlier in the day were fascinating and I will share that with you in a future post.

Update from Matthew Teller, May 2013

Matthew has recently returned from Egypt and has written an interesting article about safety in Egypt and yes, he is certain it is safe to travel there with a few sensible precautions including avoiding Tahrir Square. If you are thinking of travelling to Egypt please to read it. He shares some great advice.

Photograph by Neill Bristow

Related articles

Egyptian tourism sector ravaged by political unrest by Karim Hafez and Dalia Farouq on Ahram Online
(Matthew’s Teller’s source regarding hotel occupancy)

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