`It's ludicrous that people stay away'

Will the murder of tourists in Egypt do anything to deter British travellers? By Sue Wheat

Tourism collided fatally with terrorism once more on Thursday, when gunmen massacred 18 Greek pilgrims outside a hotel in Cairo. Long after the bodies of the victims have been flown back to their grieving families, Egypt will be paying the price of the slaughter. With every such tragedy, the frontiers of fear shift in our perceptions.

In the US a few years ago I invited some American friends to visit me in England. Their response was, "Maybe when it's less dangerous." It took a moment to realise they were talking about IRA bombs. "But I've never seen any trouble," I insisted. They were unconvinced; I was infuriated by their unwillingness to believe me.

Travelling in Egypt, I could hear a similar frustration in the comments of the locals I met. "It's ludicrous that people stay away," said one Egyptian woman on the journey from Sinai to Cairo. "Don't people realise these Islamic Fundamentalists are just a minority of people in Egypt, and the odds of being attacked are less than those of being run over by a bus in England?"

I could see her point. Around 15,000 people have died on British roads since 1992, compared with two Britons killed by terrorist attacks in Egypt. As we drove through some of the most stunning scenery across the desert, past Bedouin men on camels striding magnificently across the mountain plains, and through oases scattered with palm trees straight from a Hollywood film set, I couldn't imagine a more unlikely place to see a terrorist. "You must go home and tell people Egypt is not dangerous," her friend, an engineer from Cairo added, "and we want people to come."

In one very selfish way, I didn't want to do as they said - the sight of packed tourist coaches trundling through that idyllic desert route would certainly spoil my vision of Egypt. And anyway, being thought of as a kind of touristic version of Kate Adie is also quite a novelty. "Aren't you brave?" people had said before I left. The truth is, the nearest I got to intrepid was when I started to climb the pyramids and decided it was too much like hard work. Travelling to a country that others are scared of going to is quite a thrilling experience, especially when you realise you're not being brave at all.

The Egyptians are very worried about the effect of terrorism on tourism. In our case, the authorities seemed to be so intent on making the tour group I was with feel protected that it was quite a challenge to persuade them that our minibus didn't need a police escort on the busy highway from Alexandria to Cairo. We did, however, give in on our journey to Siwa, a remote oasis in the north of Egypt. This was more because of wishing to indulge the 18-year-old rookie policeman they pushed on to our bus, excited at the prospect of being away from home for a few days, rather than fear. I don't think for a moment that we were ever in any danger, and I doubt if there was anything our baby-faced policeman without a gun could have done about it if we were - but he came anyway and seemed to enjoy practising his English and guiding us to the best sunset locations.

So given the chance, would I go back to Egypt next week? The answer is as clear-cut as the response to the following: do I want to snorkel in one of the best diving locations in the world; breathe the air in ancient Pharaonic tombs and marvel at the perfectly intact hieroglyphics; visit some more of the 96 pyramids around the country; learn about the ancient Bedouin culture and journey into the dramatic Sinai mountains? To each, an emphatic "yes".

And do I think I would be in danger? On a rational basis, no. You should worry more about crossing the road in Cairo than becoming a victim of terrorism. Master what I termed "the Egyptian miracle walk" - a nonchalant stroll across at least five lanes of chaotic traffic without looking worried or angry or speeding up - and you deserve immediate Egyptian residency.

But the trend of targeting tourists is not one that should be taken lightly. As an Egyptian friend explains, "The focus of attacks on the tourism industry is linked to the fact that fundamentalists are generally poor, young, and unemployed. The fundamentalist movement isn't really religious, but feeds upon their lack of power and their frustrations, through their poverty." And as with tourism development in many Third World countries, tourism in Egypt accentuates the gap between the rich and the poor, especially when tourism facilities are luxurious and foreign-owned. By visiting very poor areas in luxury buses and staying at big hotels, which are often in poor areas, tourists are just rubbing salt into wounds.

So what can tourists do? Go to Egypt, enjoy the culture, the landscape and the people, and travel in a way that puts as much money into local hands as possible. If the fear of attack leads to the increased ghetto- isation of tourists into protected areas, and the increased physical and economic marginalisation of the people, it would certainly be the worst thing for us all.

Foreign Office travel advice for Egypt: "Extremists have conducted a campaign of violence against the Egyptian government since 1992 and have warned tourists not to visit. The authorities attach the highest priority to protecting visitors. But as the latest attack shows, security cannot be guaranteed and tourists appear, in this incident, to be the deliberate target. Visitors are advised not to travel by road, rail or river to the Governornate of Minya, unless they have specific business there".

Terror and tourism

The fax landed on my desk just as news was arriving about the latest terrorist attack on tourists in Cairo. It invited me on a freebie to the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. "Because of the long-running political feud between the two sectors, the North has remained virtually unspoiled." Spin doctors in the travel industry are never short of finding silver linings among the clouds of international politics.

The more tourism spreads its tentacles into hitherto "undiscovered" parts, the more it runs into conflict with geo-politics and terrorism. The reason that large numbers of travellers are only now starting to discover the broad and blissful Pacific beaches of El Salvador and Nicaragua is that these Central American republics spent most of the Eighties in varying degrees of civil turmoil.

Travellers seeking the new and different are attracted to former war zones for the simple reason that it takes time for images of violence to subside - so there is a lag between the end of a conflict and the commencement of mass tourism.

For the last couple of years, the travel industry has talked excitedly about the re-emergence of Beirut as a destination. The extreme violence rained upon Lebanon this week will set back the tourism clock and affect its many sub-industries. A new guidebook, The Traveller's Survival Kit: Lebanon, is being rapidly rewritten before its publication in mid-May and the line "now that peace has been restored" has been removed from the back cover.

Although many terrorist groups have now latched on to the political value of targeting tourists, the number of British casualties of terrorism is tiny compared with the overall risks of travel; a car crash in France or malaria contracted in Kenya is much more likely to kill you than a politically motivated attack. But, as Britain's inbound tour operators are finding, image is crucial. Bomb attacks on London landmarks and double- decker buses are bound to deter some visitors.

It is a grisly truth of travel that one after-effect of violence is holidays at giveaway prices. A press release has just arrived from leading long- haul operator Kuoni. From this week until the end of June, you can fly BA from London to Colombo and have a week in a three-star hotel for pounds 399, nearly pounds 200 less than the lowest BA fare for the flight alone. Bomb attacks by Tamil separatists have dented the long-haul travel industry's hopes for Sri Lanka. As this latest offer shows, the tourist who follows the tragic course of terrorism around the world can cash in.

Foreign Office Travel Advice: call 0171-238 4503 or 4504, or consult BBC-2 Ceefax from page 564 onwards. The Internet address is http://www.fco.gov.uk/

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen