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.

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence