Unrest deals blow to Egypt hospitality sector

Updated 02 October 2013
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Unrest deals blow to Egypt hospitality sector

Heshmat Youssef used to make a decent living sailing foreign tourists down Egypt’s Nile River. Since political unrest flared, business has dried up faster than water in the desert.
Riots and killings that spiked after the Aug. 14 crackdown against followers of ousted President Muhammad Mursi have delivered a severe blow to Egypt’s tourism industry, which until recently accounted for more than 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and nearly 20 percent of its foreign currency revenues.
The chairman of the Egyptian Airports Company, Gad El-Karim Nasr, said arrivals at Egyptian airports have dropped by more than 40 percent from Sunday through Tuesday compared to the same time the previous week. He said that in the same time-frame, 13,000 tourists, mostly from Germany and Italy, have left the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada — with only 3,000 new arrivals.
With governments in the US and Europe advising their citizens to avoid Egypt, the impact threatens the livelihood of the one in eight Egyptians who earn their money from tourism.
“We want to live in stability and for tourism to come back,” said Youssef, who hasn’t seen holidaymakers in weeks. “Let us eat already. We are extremely tired.”
The latest shock occurred just as Egypt’s tourism industry, which injected more than $10 billion into the economy last year, was slowly recovering from the blow suffered from the 2011 uprising against ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
That uprising had already prompted some US operators to pull out of Egypt. But the drop in US visitors, who favor ancient monuments like the Pyramids outside Cairo and the tombs and temples of the Nile Valley, did not affect the resilient European market.
Every year millions of sun-starved Europeans swarm the Red Sea beaches far from the chaos of the cities.
Now, the European market, too, is drying up. Major European travel companies have canceled bookings through October after televised scenes of chaos and European governments’ warnings to avoid Egypt.
“We have canceled all trips to Egypt until Sept. 15,” said Anja Braun, a spokeswoman for TUI, one of Germany’s biggest travel operators, said the company has canceled all trips to Egypt until Sept. 15.
Customers can either rebook a trip to a different destination free of charge or get their money back, she said.
Costa Crociere SpA, one of Italy’s main cruise operators, has canceled all Red Sea cruises and stops in Egypt through the 2013-2014 winter season.
“Egypt is the No. 1 tourist destination for Italians,” said Massimo Broccoli, commercial director of Veratour tour operator. “Clearly there will be an economic impact.”
In France, the Association of Tour Operators suspended tours to Cairo, the Red Sea and all other cities until further notice.

Even the lucrative Russian market, which accounted for the largest share of foreign tourists at 14 percent, is feeling the effects.

Planes are still leaving Moscow’s airports for Egypt, packed with travelers who already paid for their trips and cannot cancel without a penalty payment. But the Association of Tour Operators of Russia reports that about 30 percent of the advance package tours to Egypt have been canceled.
However, relatively few Russians, Germans, Italians, Serbs and others who were already at their beach resorts when violence escalated this month chose to leave early. Tour operators in Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden and Norway did fly hundreds of vacationers back home early — sometimes to the dismay of the tourists who said the resorts were quiet and they didn’t want to leave.
“We have offered individual solutions for tourists who are worried and want to go home early,” said Braun of TUI, which had about 6,000 customers at Red Sea resorts last week. “But so far fewer than 100 tourists have taken us up on the offer and cut short their vacations.”
Some hardy souls are still traveling to Egypt, either because they believe they can avoid trouble or because they can’t cancel without a penalty.
“We had already reserved in less stormy times,” said Giuseppe Giordano as he waited with a friend to check in Tuesday at Rome’s airport for an EgyptAir flight to Cairo. “Newspapers and television often exaggerate. Often, only being there can one really understand what’s going on.”
Those who do venture to Egypt will find restaurants and bars closing early due to a curfew in Cairo and many other areas except the Red Sea. Folklore shows and cultural events have been canceled. Museums are open for just a few hours a day.
“There will be losses on all sides, from the souvenir vendors in Egypt to the hotel and bus operators and airlines to the travel agencies in Germany,” said Torsten Schaefer of the German Travel Association. “It’s too early to say how high the losses will be, but certainly there will be massive cuts for the population in Egypt and livelihoods will be destroyed.”
The crisis facing Egyptian tourism flared just as the industry was rebounding: Last year, 11.5 million foreigners visited Egypt, a 17 percent increase from the 9.8 million in 2011.
Egyptian officials, tourism employees and foreign travel agents are hopeful this will happen again once stability returns.
“Egypt is a remarkable destination that many older Americans have on their ‘bucket lists’ so there will be pent-up demand for travel there when the time comes to return,” said Priscilla O’Reilly of the US-based Overseas Adventure Travel.
Pamela Lassers of Abercrombie & Kent USA said that over the years “we have seen many ups and downs in the Middle East” and that the US industry believes that eventually Egypt “will once again be welcoming travelers to the country’s many World Heritage sites.”
That’s small comfort to Youssef, the boat operator who is among the millions of Egyptians who rely on tourism for their livelihood.
With the tourists gone, Youssef has taken a job as a security guard at a store. The $43 he earns there each month provides for 10 people, including his wife, their four children and his sister and her three.
“Everyone is borrowing from everyone,” he said. “I swear to God, we are not living.”


Philippines’ tourist island Boracay shuts down for rehabilitation

Updated 25 April 2018
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Philippines’ tourist island Boracay shuts down for rehabilitation

  • Boracay is just one of more than 7,300 islands in the Philippines, but it draws 2 million visitors annually
  • Some residents complain that officials have turned a blind eye and say those tasked with solving Boracay’s problems were complicit in creating them

BORACAY: With postcard-perfect views of the Philippines’ most treasured island behind them, laborers hammer away at the walls of the Boracay West Cove resort, demolishing them one chunk at a time.
The resort is being reduced to piles of rock and steel rods, the first in a wave of demolitions of illegal structures on the tourist island of Boracay on the orders of the Philippines’ no-nonsense president, Rodrigo Duterte.
Boracay is just one of more than 7,300 islands in the Philippines, but it draws 2 million visitors annually, just under a third of the country’s total tourist arrivals last year.
But with an estimated 1,800 businesses competing for space and clamoring for a share of the annual $1 billion that Boracay generates, mass tourism is pushing this tiny 10-square-kilometer island to the brink of collapse.
“What Duterte wants, Duterte gets,” said Phillip Penafor, a local government worker overseeing the demolition of the West Cove, which was built on protected forest land.
Duterte weighed in unexpectedly in February, raging that Boracay’s famous turquoise waters smelled “of shit,” and warning of an environmental disaster from unchecked growth and a failing sewage system that made it a “cesspool.”
On April 4, he ordered the closure of the island to outsiders for six months from Thursday to undergo a process of rehabilitation, for which a complete plan has yet to be drafted.
Tourists and non-residents will be denied entry and boats will be barred from going within 3 kilometers of the island. A few dozen police, including riot and SWAT teams, have been doing exercises on the beach to prepare for resistance that residents say is highly unlikely.
The local government has started demolishing some of the 900 illegal structures on the island and preparing to widen a 7-kilometer spine road clogged with trucks, motorbikes and vans.
Their priority is expanding an overburdened sewage system, and dismantling a network of pipes created illegally by businesses and resorts to divert their waste into storm water drains, through which it all ends up in the sea.
The government expects the closure to cost the economy about 2 billion pesos ($38.1 million) and is preparing a “calamity fund” of a similar amount to help an estimated 30,000 people whose livelihoods are affected.
Despite that, Duterte’s abrupt push to fix Boracay is being broadly welcomed by residents and even businesses, although they would have liked more time to adjust.
“It’s good for our future. The problem is, we’re not really prepared for this,” said Ciceron Cawaling, the longtime mayor of the nearby town of Malay, which oversees Boracay.
“We were caught by surprise by his declaration. This all arose in a matter of seconds.”
Located off the northern tip of central Panay island, Boracay was once an idyllic destination for divers and backpackers lured by its tranquility and powdery white sands.
But the island has seen explosive growth in recent years, partly the result of surging numbers of tourists from Asia, particularly China and South Korea.
Local authorities have struggled to cope with that growth, lacking manpower and resources to enforce laws and carry out inspections to curb environmental violations.

 

 
Some residents complain that officials have turned a blind eye and say those tasked with solving Boracay’s problems were complicit in creating them. The local government denies that.
The entire White Beach on the island’s west coast is lined with resorts, restaurants and shops offering souvenirs, tattoos, massages and watersports, some three or four buildings deep.
Visitors go parasailing and ride speedboats, and gather in crowds for sunset selfies on the beach, where dozens of moored boats obstruct views of the water.
Even before Duterte’s intervention, the local government was taking some steps toward a makeover for Boracay. In November, it hired a well-known urban planner, Felino Palafox, whose firm has handled 1,200 projects in 28 countries.
Palafox is proposing the introduction, after the six-month rehabilitation, of regulations and modern infrastructure to manage tourism and make Boracay environmentally sustainable.
His plan includes having only electric vehicles, building a wide road with a tram and a 7-kilometer pedestrian footpath, and setting back buildings from the beach. Building heights would be restricted and businesses would be given incentives to install solar panels and plant trees.
The plan is being considered by the local and national government but no decision has been made yet.
Palafox said he was consulted about Boracay in the 1990s and again in 2006, but his advice was ignored. He’s confident that with Duterte in charge, this time will be different.
“It’s still salvageable if we have good supervision and monitoring and we knuckle down,” he said. “What we have now is very strong political will.”
But some residents complain they were given no chance to comply with laws that are only now being enforced.

 

 
Canadian Allan Lieberman has called Boracay home for three decades. Despite having legal papers and permits issued by local authorities, he’s demolishing his 10-year-old cliffside resort, in anticipation of being evicted for occupying a plot that was supposed to be protected forest land.
He thinks it was time for him to leave anyway.
“Boracay? I hate Boracay,” he said, as a team of workers behind him took down solar panels and wooden poles. “There’s nothing of the old Boracay left. Even if restored, its soul has gone.”
Resort owner Delnora Hano has lived in Boracay just as long, and remembers when there was no electricity and accommodation was bamboo huts.
She says the temporary loss of business and jobs is worth it and lauds Duterte for stepping in.
“It’s the right time to intervene, there are problems that can be fixed now,” she said. “It can be done, the island can survive.”

Decoder

Cesspool

In a survey of the Boracay’s sewerage facilities, the vast majority - 716 of 834 - residential and business properties were found to have no discharge permit and were presumed to be draining waste water directly into the sea.

FACTOID

Canceled

The Philippines’ tourism department said that as many as 18 ocean liners, carrying more than 50,000 passengers and around half that number of crew members, were due to visit the island in 2018 before the closure announcement.