Dispatch, Egypt: A quiet Cairo longing for return of tourists


Michelle dispatch Egypt

Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran is in Egypt for one week following the country's 18-day revolution, which prompted the evacuation of hundreds of U.S. citizens out of the country last month. Her second dispatch follows. Click to read her first dispatch. 

Wandering the ghost town that was once the bustling Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo is a sobering experience.

Many of the shops are closed, and there are far more merchants lounging about than tourists eyeing their wares.

As I walked past one shopkeeper, he looked up hopefully and said politely, "Welcome back."

My tour guide Heba with Big Five Tours & Expeditions chuckled, explaining that he had meant to say "welcome" not "welcome back," but somehow the latter seemed more fitting for the current, devastating situation for Egypt's tourism industry.

In the wake of a revolution that led to numerous countries issuing travel warnings and advisories (many of which having since been downgraded), and the U.S. government evacuating its citizens out of the country, Egypt saw an 85-88% drop in tourists last month, according to Amr Elezabi, chairman of the Egypt Tourist Authority.

Tourism, which Elezabi said makes up 11% of Egypt's GDP, came to a dead stop, and the ripple effects are palpable as one tours around the eerily quiet historic sites of Cairo.

Coffee shops and restaurants around the bazaar sat empty, many shops were shuttered and some of the bazaar jewelers had removed their jewelry from the racks for fear of random looting.

There have been media reports of lawlessness in Cairo as the government restructures. The city doesn't feel unsafe in the slightest, but there are signs that authority has slipped.

Cairo's historic city center, for instance, was closed to cars pre-revolution. But following the overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak, a humbled police force isn't enforcing the regulation and cars are now driving and parking along the cobblestone streets.

The few tourists winding their way through the old city and bazaar enjoyed a much more peaceful experience than usual. They seemed relaxed and content in their sightseeing and souvenir shopping.

But the shopkeepers and businesspeople whose livelihoods rely on droves of international visitors are far from relaxed.

They are hoping to welcome back many more tourists, and sooner rather than later.

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