Where Have All the Tourists Gone?

Cruise Flashback; Galveston to Dubai 2013

Safaga/Luxor, Egypt; May 13, 2013         

FEB. 19, 2021, DALLAS – Among my lasting memories of Egypt are seeing buildings, tombs and monuments that are thousands of years old; evidence of societies that are in some ways very different than my own; and sobering effects that unrest and revolution can have on a country’s economy.

I’ve already written about the first two. But it perhaps is the latter that I remember most.

I saw the crippling effect of the unrest in Egypt when our bus crossed the Nile in Luxor after visiting the Valley of the Kings. Our guide pointed out the dozens of river cruise boats moored to the riverbank. Normally they would be sailing for a week up the Nile to Aswan, full of tourists. Agatha Christie’s “Death on the Nile,” which I read as we crossed the Mediterranean Sea heading for Egypt, described their journeys in decades past.

But in 2013, three fourths of these boats were sitting idle, awaiting the return of tourists.

Boats Moored on Nile River in Luxor in 2013, Watercolor 2021

Perhaps it was much as today’s cruise ships are anchored with minimal crew, just waiting for the end of the pandemic. One of Holland America’s captains recently shared a photo of the line’s ships earlier this month near Southampton, U.K.

Holland America ships waiting near Southampton, 2021

The Nile cruise boats were an apt illustration of the entire Egyptian tourist industry. It was no surprise in 2013 that everyone we saw was thrilled that we chose to tour in Egypt.

In 2010, the year before the Arab Spring uprisings, the tourism industry employed about 12 percent of Egypt’s workforce. In 2011, the number of visitors fell by almost 40 percent. By 2013, the year we visited, revenue generated by tourism had fallen to US$6 billion, from US$12.5 billion in 2010.

Our guides traveled from Alexandria to Safaga to meet us again for our second Egyptian stop. They all were highly skilled and educated Egyptologist guides who spoke excellent English. Many of their fellow guides were furloughed.

Alex City Travel guide at Karnak Temple, 2013

There wasn’t a question that our guide couldn’t answer, and he put information in a context that made sense to us. I was so impressed by him that, even though I avoid trying to paint people, I made him front and center in one of my recent watercolors.

Guide at Karnak Temple, Watercolor 2021

I am thrilled to see that our independent tour company, Alex City Travel, is still in business, despite the pandemic. My fall 2022 cruise schedule includes a stop in Alexandria, Egypt, and I’ll book with the company again.

In 2013, I initially was nervous about taking an independent tour instead of a ship-sponsored excursion. If the tour is delayed, the ship will wait for its own excursion groups but not independent tours. But my fellow passenger who set up this tour assured me that the company was reliable. It would lose its sterling reputation if it didn’t get us back to the ship. And Royal Caribbean charged more than twice as much for an identical overnight tour to Cairo. I think Alex City Travel might have been the subcontractor for the cruise line’s excursion as well.

Luxor was almost three hours from the port of Safaga on the Red Sea, but just seeing the Valley of the Kings was worth the journey. It is the home of 64 discovered tombs, including that of King Tutankhamun.

Valley of the Kings, Watercolor 2021

Before spending the afternoon at the expansive Karnak Temple, we had a lovely lunch at a restaurant on the banks of the Nile River. I remember how wonderful the tomatoes on the salad bar looked, but like a good American tourist I didn’t eat uncooked food I couldn’t peel. Now I’m not sure whether I would be able to resist. What would you have done?

Original Luxor post, 2013