Egypt’s Indiana Jones sets off in pursuit of disappearing tourists

Egypt’s tourism industry has taken such a hit from aircraft crashes and terrorist attacks that Zahi Hawass, the country’s self-styled Indiana Jones, has started a tour of the country with Anwar Sadat’s widow to woo back foreigners.

Only three million tourists have visited the country since the start of 2016, down by half compared with the same period last year, according to the tourism authority. In 2010, the year before the Arab Spring, 14.7 million tourists visited Egypt.

Millions have stayed away, dealing a crushing blow to the country’s economy. On Sunday President Sisi warned Egyptians that they faced tough austerity measures, including cuts to food and energy subsidies.


Dr Hawass, a celebrity archaeologist, said that he was making it his mission to turn the industry around. Next month the Stetson-wearing former antiquities minister is starting a private tour of the country’s pharaonic sites with Jehan Sadat, the 82-year-old widow of the late President Sadat.

They hope that the two-week trip, run by Archaeological Paths, a company based in Poland, will be adopted by the tourism authorities, which Dr Hawass claims have not done enough to entice visitors back.

He described the celebrity pairing with “Egypt’s first lady” as the magic formula to save the country. “I don’t think there is anyone else working as hard to get tourists back to Egypt,” he told The Times. “Out of everyone from Egypt, people know me and Mrs Sadat. People can trust us. I’m known all over the world. Mrs Sadat is a respected person and loves Egypt. I think me and her can help save the country.”

The past five years of political turmoil have taken a toll on the tourism industry, which makes up 11.3 per cent of Egypt’s GDP and employs 1.3 million people. The bringing down of a Russian passenger jet in Sinai in November, which killed all 224 people on board, hit tourist numbers further. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the crash, prompting Britain, Russia and Germany to impose flight bans on the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. A third of all hotels in the area closed.

A second crash in May, when an EgyptAir plane plunged into the Mediterranean on its way from Paris to Cairo, exacerbated the problem. Many tour operators have extended their holiday ban on Sharm el-Sheikh until the autumn. Russia continues to bar all flights to the country.

Mr Sisi blamed much of the economic sluggishness on flagging tourism. In his speech he prepared Egyptians for impending cuts. “We need to co-operate together, as a nation, to face the current difficult economic conditions,” he said.

Last week the tourism ministry started a new website in 14 languages in an attempt to repair the image of the country abroad.

Leave a Reply