Sharks and revolution empty Egypt's Red Sea resorts

Tourists have started trickling back to Egypt's balmy Red Sea coast in the wake of its national uprising, but ghost town resorts are still reeling from crises that preceded the unrest.

The beaches had emptied following a bizarre series of shark attacks late last year, and some souvenir vendors and other businesses here in Sharm El-Sheikh say they are still hurting from the global financial crisis.

On Wednesday a few dozen tanned tourists in shorts and summer dresses made their way through the mostly deserted town centre, past empty Bedouin-style cafes with sheets spread over cushions to shield them from the dusty air.

"We are very pleased, because it's empty and there are no Russians," said Nick, who came from Devon in southwestern England with his wife and 10-year-old twins on a trip they booked "before the sharks and before the demonstrations."

The couple, who declined to give their last name, said their only regret was not waiting until travel operators began offering major discounts as hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demand the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

"As far as events in Cairo, you would never know, if you watch TV, that it's the same country," his wife Julia said. "It's like comparing New York to the rest of the United States."

Tourists from the former Soviet Union have long flocked to Sharm, where many signs are written in Russian, but these days most hail from Britain, which did not restrict travel to the Red Sea even at the height of the unrest.

There were no demonstrations in Sharm - a sprawling resort on the southern tip of the arid and mountainous Sinai Peninsula - but that was in part because locals did not want to scare away customers.

"Here in Sharm it was fine," said Steffi Vetterli, a Swiss dive instructor who moved to town four years ago.

"The people here are working. They don't care about Cairo because they need the money," she said.

The reefs off Egypt's Red Sea coast offer some of the best diving in the world, with sea turtles, barracudas and spotted eagle rays swimming through the florid coral, the cloudless desert sky reflected on placid waters.

Mottled whale sharks - docile giants that pose little danger to humans - will migrate through starting in June.

But this year the dive centre where Vetterli works has had virtually no customers in weeks. "The winter is usually slow, but this year we have no bookings until March," she said.

That is in part due to a series of attacks in December in which other species of sharks mauled five foreign tourists close to shore, killing one of them and prompting local authorities to temporarily close beaches.

Vetterli said staff divers had seen no sign of the sharks since then, and hotels have since used nets to cordon off safe swimming areas.

Egypt's other major tourist sites - the Great Pyramids outside Cairo and the temples and tombs of Luxor and Aswan - have also been virtually deserted, and this week tour guides held a protest of sorts in the shadow of the Sphinx.

The $10 billion a year tourism industry accounts for more than a tenth of the country's GDP and employs more than 12 percent of its workforce.

More than 14 million tourists visited Egypt in 2010, a record number, with around a third of them hitting the Red Sea Coast.

The vital industry has weathered regional unrest before, including after bombings in Sharm El-Sheikh in 2005 that killed 88 people.

But Sherif, 30, who has been working for 12 years in a souvenir shop packed with rows of tiny wooden pharaonic statues, said it only took a few months for business to recover after that attack, while the financial crisis lingered.

The situation has been made worse by the small clique of businessmen with political connections who dominate the local economy, he says, asking that his last name not be published for fear of retribution.

Former Egyptian tourism minister Zuhair Garana is among several members of Mubarak's sacked government who have been banned from leaving the country as authorities investigate corruption allegations.

Sherif insists the shop owners and hotel workers here supported the hundreds of thousands of youth-led demonstrators who packed Cairo's Tahrir Square to demand the fall of Mubarak's regime, even if they didn't show it.

"We cannot demonstrate here in front of the tourists because it would hurt our business, but we have the same frustrations as the people who were in Tahrir," he says.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones