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.