05/01/2013, 00.00
EGYPT
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Once a world class destination, Luxor is now a ghost town

Visitors drop by 70 per cent because of political instability, leaving the city on life support. Once employed in the tourist sector, many residents have had to change job. For locals, the Islamist government is afraid of tourism and wants to see tourism die.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - The streets are almost deserted. Luxury hotels, some with 270 rooms, are empty, except for the lonely hotel porter. Taxi drivers are waiting for customers that are not coming. Luxor, one of the world's foremost tourist destinations, is now a ghost town according to its residents.

Entirely dependent on tourism, Luxor has suffered badly from the drastic drop in visitors to Egypt since the Jasmine revolution broke out in 2011.

Numbers plummeted from over 14 million in 2010 to 9.4 million in 2011. Two million more visited in 2012, but progress has stagnated due to Egypt's ongoing political instability.

"This has been the toughest period for Egyptian tourism since they started collecting statistics 25 years ago," said Amr Abdel Ghaffar, regional director for the Middle East at the UN World Tourism Organisation.

"It's the result of political change, and of course that brings a lot of uncertainty over the whole economy and particularly on tourism," he explained.

Luxor Temple, one of the best known sites in the world, takes centre stage in town, yet now there is barely a tourist in sight.

Sectarian strife and Salafist threats against foreigners have especially affected Upper Egypt's antiquities and monuments, frightening people away. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of visitors dropped by 70 per cent.

"We depend on this money to protect and restore the monuments, to pay for the archaeologists, and of course for employment. So the lack of tourism affects us very badly," said Mansour Breek, head of Upper Egypt's Antiquities Zones

Everyone in the city has a tale of woe: from captains of cruise ships that have not sailed since 2011, to a travel agent who set up a furniture business to compensate his lack of earnings.

Mamdouh, a taxi driver, is struggling to survive these days. "I used to earn up to 300 (Egyptian) pounds every day. But now I'll have one guest and earn around 20 pounds," he says. "Sometimes my family doesn't eat in the evening because there's no money."

Tourism represents 11.3 per cent of Egypt's GDP and directly employs nearly three million people. However, for Mohamed Osman, vice president of the Luxor Chamber of Tourism, the Islamist government has done very little, especially in terms of security, despite widespread demands for action.

"The efforts of the government were negligible," he said, because the Muslim Brotherhood is embarrassed about tourism. "Some of them don't think tourism should be welcome. They don't kill it, but they leave it to die."

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