Monday, May 30, 2011

Despite the freedom, few dare to travel to Egypt and Tunisia

He had never seen advertising like that tourism is now in Cairo. There are signs with raised fists in the air and the phrase: "Come see Cairo." At the airport, images of young Tahrir Square in the heart of protest are displayed with the words of Barack Obama: "We have to raise our children to be as young Egyptians." On the Internet, circulating videos sponsored by Ministry of Tourism that seem anti-documentary.

In the leaflet distributed to passengers on Air Egypt, the cover has a picture of striking workers with the slogan "Strike Like An Egyptian" (then strikes like an Egyptian)-to paraphrase the pop song of the Bangles. The title of the brochure: "Welcome to post-revolutionary Egypt!". But the mass tourism of the twenty-first century, it is very revolutionary.

The visits to Egypt have plummeted since late January when more than one million protesters succeeded in toppling Hosni Mubarak. Foreign exchange earnings from tourism in Egypt have fallen 40% since then. In the grand hotels of Cairo, 80% of the rooms are empty, 16,000 tour guides in monuments like the pyramids have three months without work.

The number of Spanish tourists has dropped 50%. "We're trying to sell Tahrir Square as a tourist attraction, explaining that this is the ideal time to go because people in Egypt is happy, he feels triumphant," says Abou Sedera Magued, Egyptian Minister of Tourism in Spain. But "the decline has been very tough," he admits.

In the transitional government of Egypt, a growing concern. Tourism is the second largest source of foreign exchange, crucial for a country that imports half of its staple food. Generated revenues of 10 million euros in 2010. This year may not reach 6 million. "Tourism has gone down a lot, but we continue to import so that we have problems with debt financing," said former Prime Minister Abel Aziz Hegazy.

The same thing happens in Tunisia, a country even more dependent on tourism than Egypt in which 14% of GDP and some 800,000 people depend directly and indirectly from tourism. "The fall has been brutal: some 300,000 people are unemployed because tourists do not come," says Lelia Tekaya, the Tunisian tourism agency in Madrid.

Tunisia also has sought to appeal to the instincts of democracy and solidarity of the tourists with a new slogan Tunisia: United by emotion. "We are stressing democratic values, freedom of expression," says Tekaya. But for the moment, tourists seem more motivated by fear and ignorance. "We did much damage a media owner who said" The hijab has come to Tunisia "(before the veil was banned by the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali), but everyone knows that the handkerchief in Tunisia and Egypt as modern women are free" .

It is a strange paradox. During the years of repression under ruthless dictatorships and explosive income inequality, millions of tourists thronged the beaches of Tunisia and roamed in large herds behind the leaders, the pyramids of Giza. And they appeared like mushrooms tourist resorts on the coasts of both countries funded with petrodollars from other states in the Persian Gulf despots.

But at the time when people are released, the tourists stop coming. The cruises have eliminated both Egypt and Tunisia in their Mediterranean routes. "Urge a country to fight for democracy and then stop visit and left his fate," says Jane Akshar who rent apartments in Luxor, where hotel occupancy rate fell from 60 to 4% during the first month of the revolution, there are exceptions.

Customers of UK Responsible Travel, for example, created ten years ago by the philanthropist Anita Roddick, founder of Body Shop, organizes holidays for people who intend to travel following ethical criteria. "They continue as inestresados as before," said Krissy Roe, spokesman for the company.

"They know that Egypt needs our support more than ever, and also know it is a good time to go: it is cheaper and less crowded." In Spain travelers who can play down the danger of the unknown have not erased and Tunisia Egitpo their destinations. "There are always irrational fears in tourism, but we wanted to see Tahrir and also take advantage of the fact that there would be fewer people in the monuments," said Thilo Schäfer, a reporter for The public who visited Cairo last Easter.

Even at a time in which the police are under renovation after the revolution, Cairo is still a fairly quiet town. "It is far more dangerous to go to Rio," says this journalist. There are also two new reasons to visit Egypt. In the first place, the government's decision to open to the public for the first time seven tombs of the Pharaohs Tutankamun, including the Maya, the treasurer of the young pharaoh who died 4,500 years ago, and his general Horenheb.

The authorities expect that this unprecedented opportunity to convince people to overcome their fear. To help figure out the size of ancient Egypt also announced the discovery of 17 new pyramids hitherto unknown graves of 1,000 and 3,000 settlements. Second, begin to organize guided tours and Tahrir Square in being offered the chance to buy a bright red shirt with the words written in Arabic: "I was in Tahrir, the cradle of the revolution."

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