Talk of Nefertiti tomb spurs renewed hope for Egypt tourism

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The entrance to King Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.
The entrance to King Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.

If anything can save Egypt from its most recent spate of tourism-crippling headlines, it might be one particularly famous ancient Egyptian.

A recently published paper by British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves has proposed that there could be additional chambers beyond King Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. And further, that one of those chambers might be the undisturbed burial site of Queen Nefertiti.

“If Mr. Nicholas Reeves, the archaeologist who has proposed this theory, is correct, it will be the most exciting news for Egypt since the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922 by Howard Carter,” said Rami Girgis, a university-trained Egyptologist and product manager for Abercrombie & Kent’s Private Jet and Special Interest Travel divisions.

Much of Egypt’s tourism industry has been closely monitoring the developments in and around Tutankhamen’s tomb with the hopes that a major discovery, such as the unearthing of the tomb of one of the most influential ancient Egyptian royals, could help reignite the country’s battered tourism sector, which is entering its fifth year of struggles since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.

Following the election of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in May 2014, Egypt’s travel industry was hopeful that the country was on the path to a more stable and thus more lucrative future. And up until about midway through 2015, it appeared that things were heading in a positive direction.

Then, last September, news agencies reported that eight Mexican citizens who were traveling on a desert oasis tour had been killed in an air attack by Egyptian police and military forces. And in October, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that killed 224 people.

Following the downing of the Russian plane, occupancy at hotels in Cairo has averaged about 50% to 60%, according to Girgis, who noted the Arab/Gulf market is compensating for weakness in the North American and European markets.

“The same cannot be said for the Nile cruise ships, which are still struggling,” said Girgis, adding, “The Red Sea resorts are now relying heavily on the local markets, Egyptians and foreign expats.”

But Egypt’s tourism authorities are optimistic that a discovery such as Queen Nefertiti’s tomb could help repave the path to recovery.

“I believe such a discovery will entice new visitors to come and explore our country, as most tourists from the U.S. are cultural tourism lovers, and it will be a new aspect about old Egypt for those tourists,” said Gawaher Ali, consul-director of USA, Canada and Latin America for the Egyptian Tourist Authority, the country’s tourism promotion entity.

Ali said that the tourism situation in Egypt is recovering following the Russian plane crash and that stricter measures have been put in place in Egypt’s airports after the country contracted with an international company to oversee and manage airport security.

She said she believed that tourism would rebound in Egypt “strongly” in 2016 due to promotional efforts the Egyptian Tourist Authority is implementing in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

As far as Girgis is concerned, the news and excitement surrounding the possibility of finding Nefertiti’s tomb is exactly the kind of positive public relations the country needs to pull itself out of its latest slump.

“The biggest challenge will be the decision to break into this area, which will damage the wall of Tutankhamen’s tomb” Girgis said.

“They are exploring their options and whether it might work to drill down from the top, a long, manual process that could take months. The good news is that it’s winter season in Egypt, which is the prime time for archeological digs, so we are hopeful that they may have something tangible by [the middle of 2016].”

And if they do find something, he said, “it will be a game-changer for Egypt’s tourism industry.”

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