EGYPT--When cocktail hour comes round in the Egyptian Mediterranean resort of al-Masr these days, there are no tourists to watch the soft darkness snuff out the iridescent turquoise of the sea.
Slinky music echoes a little eerily along deserted terraces; this is twilight in the twilight zone.
We were a party of three - the only guests in a 550-bedroom hotel.
The only arrivals from Europe this winter have been the migratory starlings which squeal and bustle deafeningly as they roost in the neatly-trimmed palm trees.
November on Egypt's northern coast is hardly peak season, of course, but the simple truth is that the television images of political violence in Cairo and Alexandria have put tourists off.
Holidaymakers like history - but they don't like finding themselves in the middle of it.
We work this year at about 40% capacity. Staff wages are half the usual level. Things are so, so bad this year”
Mohammad Hassin, one of the managers in the al-Masr hotel, supervised the 45-man team that made our breakfast.
Staff have been laid off and salaries cut. He admits that it's not a happy time in the Egyptian travel industry - but he hopes for better times to come when the political situation stabilises again.
"We work this year at about 40% capacity. We have the usual number of staff working here. Their wages are half the usual level. Things are so, so bad this year," Mr Hassin says.
He makes the point that the dramatic scenes of street unrest in February which made foreigners nervous didn't last - but the damage is done, nonetheless.
Tourism matters hugely to the Egyptian economy: this is a vital source of jobs and of hard currency.
And the country has been blessed by providence with beautiful coastlines to north and south and the extraordinary treasures of the ancient civilisation of the Pharaohs in between.
But none of that matters if tourists in Germany, Italy and the UK see pictures of rioting on TV and decide to go to Turkey instead.
And there's evidence that's what they did after the revolutionary upheaval in February.
Tourist numbers in March were down 60% on the same month in the previous year and tourist spending was down 66%.
They are catastrophic figures when the holiday industry accounts for more than 10% of Egypt's national income. (Read more.)
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Egypt's Tourism Industry Suffering Due to Unrest
Apart from oil (and the Hajj), tourism is about the only significant source of foreign money for Muslim countries in the Middle East. With revolutions running wild, however, tourists just aren't interested in the pyramids of Egypt.