Wednesday February 27, 2013
Luxor balloon crash another blow to battered Egypt tourism
LUXOR, Egypt: People in Egypt's ancient temple city of Luxor fear a hot-air balloon accident that killed 19 tourists will deal a major blow to their once-thriving tourism industry, already crippled by unrest following the country's uprising.
"The accident will have a devastating effect on tourism," said Yasser al-Zambali, who owns the Dream Balloon company in Luxor, one of a handful of balloon companies that organises sunrise flights over the city.
"How can I now convince other tourists to pay a single dollar to ride a balloon now?"
On Tuesday, a hot-air balloon exploded and plunged to earth during a dawn flight, killing 19 tourists from Hong Kong, Japan, France, Britain and Hungary.
Residents and tour industry professionals fear the accident will keep more tourists away, as Egypt struggles to revive the industry responsible for much of its foreign currency revenue.
Frequent unrest around the country has contributed to a crippling economic crisis since 2011, when a popular uprising ousted long-time president Hosni Mubarak, and foreign reserves have plunged more than $20 billion since then.
"We are in high season, but there are just a few dozen tourists," said Zambali.
Raymond Khalaf, reservations manager at a five star hotel on the banks of the Nile said occupancy was at 35 percent.
"Usually, at this time of year, it is 90 percent," he told AFP.
At the luxury Winter Palace hotel, where crime novelist Agatha Christie is said to have stayed while writing her thriller "Death on the Nile," occupancy was at 40 percent.
"The situation isn't bad because of the revolution; it's bad because of the violence that has followed," said Mohammed Ali, the hotel's assistant manager.
Egypt has been gripped by political turmoil since Mubarak was toppled, but unrest and insecurity have been on the increase since November, when Islamist President Mohamed Morsi issued a now-repealed decree expanding his powers.
But while the decree was in effect, a controversial Islamist-drafted constitution was rushed through. That further divided Egypt between Morsi's mainly Islamist supporters and a wide-ranging opposition and sparked violence on the streets.
Residents say the balloon accident is the latest in a string of problems to cast a shadow over Luxor, a giant open-air museum of a city that includes the Valley of the Kings and the temple complexes of Luxor and Karnak.
An upsurge of violence in January brought more anxiety to the industry.
"The violence on the second anniversary of the revolution caused around a thousand cancellations at this hotel," Ali said.
Tour guide Ahmed Sayyed said he used to work with two groups a day before the revolution.
"Now I have one group every three days. My income has decreased by 75 percent," he said.
Residents say the city is in desperate need of development, and new infrastructure is needed to attract tourists.
Of the few people roaming the ancient sites, Danish tourist Martin said "the situation is worse than I imagined especially considering the lack of organisation and chaos."
Outside the luxury hotels on the palm-fringed Nile corniche, dozens of horse-drawn carriages stood idly waiting for customers.
In 2010, occupancy was at 100 percent and some hotels couldn't cope with the bookings, one tourism authority official said.
"But now we are in high season and the city is almost deserted," the official said.
"I just want to hear some good news that will revive tourism," said shop owner Osama Hamdy. - AFP