| Philipp Laage |
Luxor, Egypt (dpa) – Seen from the restaurant, the outdoor swimming pool of the Hilton Hotel in Luxor looks like it’s a sparkling blue arm of the Nile River.
Nothing disturbs the optical illusion, since at the moment, there are no cruise boats on the mighty river, and the hotel’s poolside loungers are also empty. It’s a scene typical in many places these days in Luxor, amid a drastic slump in Egypt’s inland tourism industry.
But Hisham Zaazou is optimistic.
Egypt’s tourism minister confidently predicts a comeback is ahead for the travel sector and that this year will be a strong year again.
“I am betting on it. In fact I have a number of ongoing bets,” the minister says.
Since the revolution of 2011, the travel business on the Nile has been in the doldrums.
Some people might even say that tourism hardly exists any more. The statistics underscore the crisis, with data showing that one week in November, out of 255 available river cruise vessels, only 35 were in operation.
The biggest problem, Zaazou concedes, is travellers’ perception of the political situation in Egypt.
“If we can change that, then the tourists will again decide to come here.”
To make the Nile more attractive, Egypt is quietly supporting the marketing efforts of travel firms specialising in cultural tourism, and is taking over the landing fees for foreign airlines in Luxor.
For Zaazou, it is all a matter of budgeting and capacity utilisation. He concedes that travel to the Nile is not a “simple product” in the way that an all-services-included stay at a tourist resort on the Red Sea is.
Ahmed Mohamed has other worries. It is Friday, and as a Muslim he actually shouldn’t be working. But the 30-year-old is sitting out front of the souvenir shop where he works on the square before the mighty Temple of Karnak in Luxor.
“I have a daughter, and a second child is due soon and to be delivered by caesarean section,” he says. “This costs a lot, and I need the money.” So Mohamed patiently waits for the tourists, but with nobody coming, he instead makes himself a cup of tea.
Most tourists currently only come over from the Red Sea resorts for a single day’s outing.
“They don’t even have five minutes’ time to visit the shops. It’s hard to do business with them,” Mohamed says.
Nor are the Egyptian tour guides any help.
“They only take people to the big stores, who pay them a commission. Everybody is looking after himself,” he says.
Mohamed went to university, aiming to become a French teacher. He’d like to move on from serving in a shop and try his luck as a tour guide.
“But as a beginner I don’t stand a chance,” he says.
Most people in Luxor who lost their jobs in the political crisis have remained unemployed, and don’t receive any welfare assistance.
“If people didn’t get help from their neighbours, they would die,” Mohamed says, and gloomily adds, “Luxor and Aswan are dying.”
Those who do take a Nile River cruise will usually visit Luxor, one of the standard stops on the way.
But the city looks dismal at the moment. In the emptyish aisles of the Great Souk, the merchants don’t even try clever bargaining strategies to sell their wares. “I’ll accept any price,” one merchant said, holding a scarf up.
On the market in Aswan, there are booths selling hibiscus, dates, chili peppers, and mallow. At a small shop there is freshly-pressed sugar cane juice. But there are hardly any vacationers, and only a handful of cruising riverboats are lined up at the quay.
German travel firms are confident that the slump in Egyptian travel will soon be ending.
Travel operator Tui is boosting its flight capacity for the coming summer by 50 per cent, while FTI is offering new destinations.
“The tourists are regaining their trust (in Egypt),” FTI director Dietmar Gunz says.
However, this primarily applies to the beach resorts on the Red Sea, above all Hurghada.
At Makadi Bay, a resort town north of there, there is little evidence of any crisis of the kind now gripping the Nile.
“Look, we just want to relax. The sea, the sun, that’s enough,” says a retiree, Christine Toporis, from Salzburg, Austria.
Rudolf and Barbara Schnetzer, a German couple on the beach, say this is their 23rd holiday in Egypt.
Rudolf reckons the kind of intellectually pretentious tourist who visits temples is more finicky than those who just soak up sun.
“These educated types get scared off by any reports of political trouble,” he opined.
The Schnetzers have toyed with popping over to the Nile.
“Actually, I’ve never seen Abu Simbel yet,” says Rudolf, who has been coming here since 1983.
Tourism Minister Zaazou insists that the region between Luxor and Aswan is absolutely safe, and calls Egypt a “green oasis” amid the political storms raging in Libya, Syria and Iraq.
Shopping assistant Mohammed believes all tourists love a bargain.
What caused a stir among visitors was when the ticket price for the Karnak Temple was raised from the equivalent of six to eight euros.
“We have a crisis going on, so shouldn’t they be lowering the price instead of raising it?” Mohamed says, shaking his head in bewilderment. Still, he’s hoping for better times ahead.