Cities Journal

Egypt’s Tourism Industry is Crumbling

The Pyramids of Giza, the Valley of the Kings, and the River Nile used to attract millions of visitors each year, but tourism has plummeted in Egypt in recent years due to political unrest and violence. The brutal revolution that erupted near the beginning of 2011 and ousted President Mubarak caused an immediate drop in tourist dollars entering the country.

In 2011, one of Egypt’s tourism officials told reporters that visitors levels had dropped an incredible 30% from 2010 to 2011, because of the violence. During the worst parts of the revolution, Cairo saw daily riots, protests, and strikes, and the crisis seemed to influence travelers even after the violence died down.

Unfortunately, confidence in the region hasn’t improved despite the passage of time. By 2013, tourist numbers were still dropping. According to a report released in the second half of that year, tourism in Egypt saw a half percent drop versus the same period in 2012.

U.S. Government Warns Against Egypt Travel

Unfortunately, valuable tourist dollars from America haven’t increased and have seen a steady decline. The U.S. Department of State published a renewed Travel Alert on March 18, 2014 that suggested citizens connected to the American Embassy in Cairo needed to leave the country.

In its warning, the government noted the death of a U.S. citizen in June of 2013 who was killed during a demonstration in Alexandria. Additionally, the government said that arrests and deportations of Americans have been common due to the sustained demonstration activity in the country. The simple act of taking pictures has become a dangerous activity for traveling Americans.

Effect on Poor Egyptians

Some of the hardest hit residents have been rural families suffering from the lack of American dollars coming into the region. Little shops and tables set up around major tourist spots once served as the primary source of income for poor families. Unfortunately, the absence of American and Western tour groups has decimated incomes and created a desperate population that’s had to rely on government assistance.

A tourist attack that occurred in 1997 in Luxor put a sizeable dent in visitor activity in the late 1990s, but that event was nothing compared to the Arab Spring and the violence that came to Egypt. Small vendors selling their handmade goods for a few dollars apiece haven’t been able to feed their families. Little figurines, handmade blankets, and tiny Egyptian knick-knacks have gone unsold, leading to empty cupboards and bare dinner tables.

Efforts to Revive Travel Difficult

With the tourism industry providing employment for almost three million citizens in Egypt, the failure and desertion of the industry hasn’t gone unnoticed. Some hotels in Cairo routinely experience significant vacancies during months when tourism would normally fill those establishments to capacity. Further complicating matters is the government’s lack of money for tourism campaigns.

Right now, the only solution from Egypt’s tourism officials has been to change marketing to feature travel destinations outside of Cairo. Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, Hisham Zaazou, recently unveiled a plan to lure vacationers to tourist spots far away from Cairo, like the beaches along the Red Sea. No one knows if this desperate attempt will save the sagging fortunes of Egypt’s tourism industry, and Egyptians can only hope that things don’t continue to get worse.

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