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Fatal accident delivers a blow to tourism

China Daily/Agencies | Updated: 2013-02-28 10:00

People in Egypt's ancient temple city of Luxor fear a hot-air balloon accident that killed 19 tourists will deal a major blow to their once-thriving tourism industry, already crippled by unrest following the country's uprising.

"The accident will have a devastating effect on tourism," said Yasser al-Zambali, who owns the Dream Balloon Co in Luxor, one of a handful of balloon companies that organizes sunrise flights over the city.

"How can I now convince other tourists to pay a single dollar to ride a balloon?"

On Tuesday, a hot air balloon exploded and plunged to earth during a dawn flight, killing 19 tourists from Hong Kong, Japan, France, Britain and Hungary.

Residents and tour industry professionals fear the accident will keep more tourists away, as Egypt struggles to revive the industry responsible for much of its foreign currency revenue.

Frequent unrest around the country has contributed to a crippling economic crisis since 2011, and foreign reserves have plunged more than $20 billion since then.

"We are in high season, but there are just a few dozen tourists," Zambali said.

Raymond Khalaf, reservations manager at a five-star hotel on the banks of the Nile, said occupancy was at 35 percent. "Usually, at this time of year, it is 90 percent," he said.

At the luxury Winter Palace hotel, where crime novelist Agatha Christie is said to have stayed while writing the thriller Death on the Nile, occupancy was at 40 percent.

"The situation isn't bad because of the revolution; it's bad because of the violence that has followed," said Mohammed Ali, the hotel's assistant manager.

Egypt has been gripped by political turmoil since then-president Hosni Mubarak was toppled, but unrest and insecurity have been on the increase since November, when President Mohammed Morsi issued a now-repealed decree expanding his powers.

But while the decree was in effect, a controversial Islamist-drafted constitution was rushed through. That further divided Egypt between Morsi's mainly Islamist supporters and a wide-ranging opposition and sparked violence on the streets.

Residents said the balloon accident was the latest in a string of problems to cast a shadow over Luxor, a giant open-air museum of a city that includes the Valley of the Kings and the temple complexes of Luxor and Karnak.

Agence France-Presse

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