Egypt fears violence in Israel will hit recovering tourist industry

Will tourists celebrating Ramses' birthday today be back next year?

Today, hundreds of travellers will flock to the temple of Ramses II in Abu Simbel, in Egypt's Nile Valley. On 22 October and 22 February each year, the sun rises and illuminates the statues of Ramses in the temple's innermost chamber.

Today, hundreds of travellers will flock to the temple of Ramses II in Abu Simbel, in Egypt's Nile Valley. On 22 October and 22 February each year, the sun rises and illuminates the statues of Ramses in the temple's innermost chamber.

"Egyptologists regard it as a miracle, particularly as it coincides with Ramses II's birthday," said. Jonathan Vernon-Powell of the independent tour operator Nomadic Thoughts. "It attracts quite a few pilgrims and tourists and it really is something to watch." Samia Khafaga, of the Egypt tourist board, called it "unbelievable, it's amazing when the sun comes in and floods the chamber".

But despite this glorious twice-yearly event, Egypt - like other destinations across the Middle East and North Africa - is beginning to feel the effects of the troubles in Israel, with reports of travellers cancelling holidays owing to fears of the crisis in the Middle East.

The Egypt tourist board is reassuring visitors that the country is well away from the trouble. Ms Khafaga said that while there have been cancellations, the tourist board is keen to spread the message that everything remains normal in Egypt. "I've been in touch with lots of tour operators and they all seem to be running smoothly, including the packages," she said. "Clearly there have been reports of a few nervous travellers dropping off, but otherwise there are very good indications that the year will proceed successfully."

In common with other operators, Thomson has dropped Israel for the time being, but it is confident that Egypt will sustain its tourism industry. "Egypt isn't affected by the trouble, but we have had calls from passengers who are concerned," said a Thomson spokeswoman. "We have been following the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice and assuring them that it is safe to travel to Egypt as it is unaffected by the situation in Israel. We are, of course, monitoring the situation closely and would notify customers if the situation were to change."

The independent travel sector reports a mixed response. Charlie Hopkinson of tour operator Dragoman said: "We haven't noticed an effect yet." While Vernon-Powell of Nomadic Thoughts is convinced that now is the best time to go. He said: "It's a perfect time weather-wise and the security is far better than before. Since the Luxor massacre in 1997, the authorities have been determined to stop any further attacks and the security is excellent." But he thinks that the Middle East troubles may well start to take their toll. "There's no doubt that the region will suffer, particularly among the US tourists who are the first to stay away." He added that he would be more cautious about going to Syria and Lebanon, although these are destinations with far fewer tourists than Egypt.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's travel advice - despite stating that there have been pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Egypt - has not indicated any abnormal risk against British people, although it is playing it safe. "We're not saying don't go, but we do still warn people of the risk of terrorist attack," said a spokesman.

British visitors to Egypt have been rising since the low point of 1998. Then, 239,902 Britons went, rising to 336,449 last year. A similar figure is predicted this year.

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