Egyptian Town Anxiously Awaits Tourists' Return
LIANE HANSEN, host:
In Egypt, a constitutional reform panel has recommended a more competitive presidential ballot and a two-term limit on future presidents. The proposals will be put to a referendum later this year.
As life in Egypt slowly returns to normal, people in the country's vital tourism industry are counting their losses. Economists say the country has lost more than a billion dollars in tourist revenue. Among the hardest-hit cities is Luxor in upper Egypt, home to some of the world's most famous tombs and temples.
NPR's Corey Flintoff has more.
COREY FLINTOFF: Zeina Aboukheir, originally from Lebanon, runs Al Moudira, one of Luxor's toniest hotels and restaurants. She says her 54 rooms were empty a few days after the start of the revolution on January 25th.
Ms. ZEINA ABOUKHEIR (Al Moudira Hotel): The clients that we had left because, of course, everybody had to leave.
FLINTOFF: But Aboukheir says she kept every one of her 70 employees on the payroll and that they guarded the hotel, preparing for turmoil that never came.
Ms. ABOUKHEIR: So, we decided to stay there and, you know, to do as, if nothing was happening. So, all the staff is still here and we're all surviving. And now that it's quiet, reservations are starting to come back and clients also. So, we hope it will start all over again.
FLINTOFF: Jane Ashkar, originally from Britain, operates tours and a rental company called Flats in Luxor with her Egyptian husband. She says the major sites, the vast temples of Luxor and Karnak, the tombs and the Valley of the Kings were suddenly empty.
Ms. JANE ASHKAR (Flats in Luxor): Normally at this time of year, they get six to eight thousand a day. After Friday the 28th, they had 35. It was panic.
FLINTOFF: She says many lower-level staff at hotels and restaurants were laid off.
Ms. ASHKAR: Behind every one man you will see in a hotel, there will be a family of maybe 20 - you know, his mom, his dad, his brothers, his sisters, his kids, his wife - all relying on his salary and his tips for food.
FLINTOFF: Ashkar says she's been blogging about how safe Luxor is and the tourists are starting to come back.
The Temple at Karnak saw a few dozen people on a recent day. Among them, John and Sue Watson from Cardiff, in Wales.
Mr. JOHN WATSON: Yeah, we were aware from reading reports on the Internet that there's no trouble and it just seemed a shame not to go somewhere where there wasn't any trouble.
Ms. SUE WATSON: Just nice to be able to walk around without loads of people. You know, we're the only ones really.
Mr. ELHUSSEIN OMAR (Tour Guide): (Foreign language spoken)
FLINTOFF: It's so quiet that guide Elhussein Omar doesn't have to shout to describe the monuments. He says he misses the business but likes the chance to focus on just a few visitors.
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FLINTOFF: The archaeological work that's slowly reassembling Egypt's monuments went on throughout the revolution.
Ray Johnson, a director at the University of Chicago's field headquarters in Luxor, says the temporary halt in the flow of tourists is giving the monuments, and especially the underground tombs of kings, such as Tutankhamen, a literal breather. He says the moist breath of thousands of people who enter the tombs is damaging the delicate paintings of gods and pharaohs.
Mr. RAY JOHNSON (Director, Luxor Field Headquarters, University of Chicago): When you have enormous amounts of humidity in the air, salt trapped in the stone is attracted to that humidity and migrates to the surface and, of course, pushes the decoration right off. One of the benefits of this hiatus in tourism here in Egypt now is that the monuments are going to have a rest.
FLINTOFF: That's not much consolation for Kamel Mohammad, who sells sodas and postcards near the Karnak Temple. He says vendors there lost a lot of money.
Mr. KAMEL MOHAMMED (Vendor): And we all, all the tourist come back. It is very safety in Luxor and Karnak, and we hope all the tourists, the American peoples, the French, come back. And, again, the tourists came here to us, we hope.
FLINTOFF: For now, hope is what many people in Luxor are living on.
Corey Flintoff, NPR News.
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