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Merchants say Egypt tourism revival steady but slow

Egyptian workers prepare a hot air balloon for a ride over the ancient city of Luxor, a city that has been hit by a tourism drought. (AFP)
LUXOR: Pummelled by political unrest and terror attacks, Egypt’s tourism industry is slowly growing again, but too slowly for thousands of bazaar workers who fondly recall when tourists thronged their stores.
Abu Aya owns a souvenir shop in the southern city of Luxor which is home to ancient pharaonic monuments, and he fondly remembers the days when the front pocket of his traditional Arabic robe sagged with cash.
“Before 2011 it was filled with dollars and euros. Today the sellers just sit in front of their stores reading the papers because there are so few customers,” the 47-year-old said.
In the promenade bazaar lined with shops selling souvenirs and incense, every business seemed to be suffering from the downturn.
For years the North African nation had worked to attract more tourists to its famed ancient sites and pristine Red Sea beaches, a policy that resulted in a record 14.7 million visitors in 2010.
Tourism in the Arab world’s most populous country has long provided much-needed revenues.
In October 2015, Daesh said it downed a Russian airliner in the Sinai after it took off from a Red Sea resort, killing all 224 people on board.
Visitor numbers plunged from 9.3 million in 2015 to 5.3 million the following year.
A public relations blitz by the tourism industry including international events and slick advertisements has had some effect, tourism officials say.
Hotel occupancy rates in Luxor are expected to reach 30 percent by the end of the year, compared with 23 percent in 2016 and 17 percent in 2015, said Maher Abdel Hakim, an expert on the hospitality industry who runs a tourism promotion group.
But there is still a long way to go, as suggested by the desperate shop owners and drivers of horse-drawn carriages who resort to pleading for business.
“I’ll accept whatever you pay — I just want to buy fodder for the horse,” one yelled at potential clients outside the colossus-flanked entrance of the ancient Luxor Temple.
Sites such as Luxor — once a pharaonic capital that still boasts stunning ancient temples — have been hardest hit, compared with the beach resorts that continue to attract a diminished but steady flow of holidaymakers.
“Before the 2011 revolution, 1,500 French tourists would come to Luxor in just a week,” said Ahmed Mahmoud, a 35-year-old former tourism industry worker who has since switched to teaching.
Abdel Hakim said the city’s population and its tourism workers were suffering.
“Tourists in the past would walk around the historic sites, and ride carriages and buy souvenirs... everyone would profit,” he said.

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