Another Blow to Tourism in Egypt

Cruise Boat on the Nile River
 USA Today: Sunday's deadly clashes in central Cairo - the worst since protesters ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February - are more bad news for Egypt's financially critical tourism industry, already down by more than a third from a year ago.

At least 24 people were killed and nearly 300 injured when Coptic Christians, who make up about 10% of Egypt's population of 80 million, fought with security forces while protesting a recent church attack in the southern Aswan province.

Though the U.S. State Department has not updated its Egypt travel advice since April 28, the British foreign office notes a new Cairo curfew from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. and says travelers should be prepared for "possible delays or diversions."

The current unrest hasn't impacted visitors like Seattle-based travel journalist Chris Gray Faust, who arrived in Cairo Monday from a Nile cruise. Though her tour guide advised her to avoid downtown, she noted no extra airport security in Luxor or Cairo and said the violence "had no effect on the tourist bubble."

Visitors "are still going to the Pyramids and walking along the Corniche, she writes, and "while the incident may have exposed sectarian tensions, Christian/American/foreign tourists are not being targeted."

"People thank us for coming constantly, and are trying at all costs to keep us away from problems," adds Washington, D.C. traveler Marianne Lawrence, who is the middle of a tour that includes Cairo, Aswan and the Red Sea.

The latest violence comes at the start of Egypt's peak tourism season, when an industry that employs one in seven Egyptians had hoped to rebound from the worst slump since a series of terrorist bombings in the 1990s.

But senior assistant tourism minister Hisham Zaazou told NPR News that, despite sharp discounting, tourism revenues are down 35 percent overall in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2010 - a $3 billion loss.

That's better than the precipitous decline when I visited in March. But last week, notes Gray Faust, only 150 of 400 vessels licensed to cruise the Nile were operating, none more than 50 percent occupied.

"Last night at the market in Aswan," adds Lawrence, "we saw only one other group of tourists...all four of them. It's so sad."