Industry Rocked by Egypt Tourist Massacre


NEW YORK -- The massacre of 70 people -- among them 60 tourists -- at a temple in Luxor shocked the travel industry and dealt a crippling blow to the $3 billion-a-year Egyptian tourism trade.

The victims, who were of various nationalities, were killed when Islamic fundamentalists posing as tourists and police opened fire on visitors preparing to enter the Temple of Hatshepsut. No Americans were among the dead in the Monday morning attack, which left another 25 people wounded, 16 of them tourists. By the end of a three-hour gun battle, all six terrorists were shot dead, some when they tried to escape in a hijacked tour bus.

The American embassy in Cairo canceled all official U.S. government travel to upper Egypt (defined as the Minya governate and south) and recommended that private citizens not travel to the area. The embassy also advised Americans to exercise caution throughout the country.

"Our first concern on hearing the news was security for clients presently in Egypt," said Samir Khalil, president of New York-based Misr Travel. "Our Egypt offices were quickly able to confirm that all of our people were safe, and that all assistance was being offered to travelers who might want to leave." Misr Travel's Eunice Roy was stunned by a Monday morning call from a prospective traveler in Phoenix looking for cheap trips to Luxor. "I thought he was kidding," she said, adding that "the only positive thing that could come out of such a tragedy would be tighter security for the next three months or longer."

Eileen Hart, vice president of marketing for Isram World of Travel, said, "Past experience would indicate that many people will postpone their arrangements, some will cancel and most will adopt a wait-and-see attitude." Egypt's tourism was booming, and there were not enough air seats and cabins for Christmas requests, Hart said, but "we will need to watch the rest of this week for a better reading on what will happen with travel to Egypt."

Globus president John Martinen said his company's operator in Egypt "has assured us that our groups are in good shape and have no problems." He said that Globus has not had a lot of advance-booking dropouts, adding that political problems in a destination are not accompanied by a rash of cancellations.

Ronen Paldi, president of Ya'lla Tours of Portland, Ore., said the company has a substantial number of FITs in Egypt, and all feel safe enough to continue their trips as scheduled. Paldi added that beefed up security can be seen at all major tourist sites as well as in other areas such as central Tahir Square in Cairo. "These are the elite troops," Paldi said, "not just security guards." No increase in security was needed at the airport, he said, because it is always a site of heavy surveillance. For the company's bookings in the U.S., Paldi said that Yalla was beginning to get cancelations of FITs with departures in the next few weeks, but not yet from groups books for next year.

Sunny Land Tours president Elie Sidawi reported some cancellations for those traveling in the next two weeks, "for which we are giving all monies back, no questions asked. For the time being, I don't think we should encourage clients to go to Egypt." That would destroy customer confidence, he said. Sunny Land has a regular Friday departure for agent fam trips, and the company has called booked participants. "We are telling agents that we feel that the Luxor tragedy is no longer an isolated incident, that the Pyramids and the Sphinx are not going anywhere and that they may wish to reconsider their trip for themselves and spouses during safer and better times," Sidawi said.

The Luxor attack came two months after two brothers firebombed a tourist bus outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, killing nine German tourists and their driver. Since 1992, extremist groups have attacked targets in Egypt, including the police, security officials and tourists. Most of these attacks have come in the provinces of Minya, Assiut, Sohag and Qena, according to the U.S. State Department, which long has warned U.S. travelers to avoid journeys to this part of the Nile Valley north of Luxor.

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