Three days after an Egyptian policeman killed three people – including two Israeli tourists – in Alexandria, the local travel industry is feeling the effects.
The incident at Egypt's port city came one day after Hamas's attack on Israel, which led Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare war on the Gaza group. Now tourists are left wondering whether there's a link between the two events.
Many Egyptian travel and tour operators are hesitant to speak openly about the situation, however. The National has also approached the country’s tourism ministry, but it has yet to respond.
“Tourism is very sensitive here when there is violence and war on the borders,” says a Cairo tour guide, who asked to remain anonymous.
Although he hasn’t had any cancellations yet, he says he’d heard reports of cruise passengers staying on board rather than exploring Alexandria. This could lead to fewer visitors to the capital, as many often take a bus to spend 24 hours in Cairo, he adds.
Another resident also says how, following the incident, some tourists scrambled to leave Nuweibaa, a coastal town in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel. Business owners now expect many tourists will be afraid to come back, at least until the war is over.
Travel agent Adham Ghoniem was taking a tour group around Alexandria on the day of the shooting. “The area was normal,” he says. “They closed only the road of the place that contained the accident.”
Ghoniem’s future clients, however, are concerned about their trips, with many asking about security. “I told them everything is stable,” he says, but hotels he works with are reporting cancellations and people shortening their trips from three or four nights to one. Bigger tour operators are also reporting a significant number of cancellations, he says.
If it continues, it could have a large ripple effect as tourism accounts for about 12 per cent of Egypt's GDP, according to its central bank. It is also one of the main sources of foreign currency in a nation with struggling economic growth and soaring inflation.
The pandemic severely affected tourism and the Russia-Ukraine war put further pressure on tour operators, as both countries made up a large proportion of Egypt's visitors.
Israeli tourists heading to the white-sand beaches and luxury resorts of southern Sinai are considered a boon for the industry in the face of these challenges. Last year, 565,000 Israelis passed through the Taba Crossing, which connects Taba in Egypt with Eilat in Israel, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Direct flights between Tel Aviv and the popular Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh were also launched last year.
Israel has urged its citizens to leave Middle Eastern countries “on the backdrop of the attack in Egypt”. Egypt has also closed its border crossings in the Sinai Peninsula as the war continues. Authorities have stepped up patrols along the borders with Gaza to prevent any infiltrations by militants into Israel, officials said.
“I hope my work is not affected because it’s how I’m making my living,” says the Cairo guide. “I’ve already suffered as a guide working in tourism, so I hope all these problems don’t affect our season, which starts now.”
Before the attack, the industry was booming, he adds. “It was very difficult to find a room,” he says. “But I don’t know what will be the situation after all this. We have to wait and see how far it will go between Israel and Gaza. If it’s becoming very big, of course, the people will be afraid to come.
"It’s very important that we don’t let the terrorists destabilise the peace and good way of living,” he adds.
For now, Egypt is safe, says travel content creator Muhamed Nasser, who is in the Sinai area. However, he has also frequently been asked about security. “I’d say to anybody who’s afraid to come to Egypt to double-check their sources and listen to the locals, especially the local travellers and guides, because they’re always out there in the streets travelling and exploring," he adds.
“Hopefully our beloved country will be safe and well all the time.”
Ahmed Khattab, another tour guide, agrees.
He shared a photo of himself with a big group of tourists in Alexandria on Monday. “This place is very, very safe,” he wrote on Instagram. “Please do come with family and friends.
"Egypt is safe, tourism in Egypt is great.”