The Daily Telegraph - The glories of Egypt - minus the tourist multitudes
November 5, 2011

Michelle Jana Chan visits a country where visitors no longer have to queue.

Usually there are buses all down the road here," said Mostafa Shokry, my guide. Instead I saw two vehicles in the car park of the Temple of Philae. There were only five tourists, including me, who had come to watch the evening sound-and-light show.
We have seen a lot of trip cancellations and few new bookings," Mostafa said.
It is not only Aswan – where the Temple of Philae is located – that is feeling the slump. The number of tourists visiting Egypt in the second quarter of this year dropped to 2.2 million – down from 3.5 million in the same period last year, according to the country's tourist board. The fall is linked to the uprising that resulted in the ousting of Hosni Mubarak as president earlier this year, as well as subsequent protests and unrest. Last month, more than two dozen people died during clashes in Cairo.
Such incidents continue to deter travellers, who were conspicuously absent during my visit last week. Not once did I have to queue to enter a tomb at the usually overcrowded Valley of the Kings. I even had to myself tomb number 62, which holds Tutankhamun's mummy. At sunset at the Temple of Luxor I walked among the colonnaded courtyards in peace.
"I feel sorry for the Egyptian people," said Phil Hope, a British tourist on a week-long Nile cruise with his wife. "We have seen nothing to make us nervous."
The lack of visitors, crowds and queues makes for a very different travel experience, and the downturn is also giving rise to some excellent offers. The newly-renovated Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, for instance, is offering 50 per cent discounts on rooms.
"I feel hopeful for the future," Khaled Helmy, the hotel's general manager, told me. "It's the beginning of the peak season, we have a brand-new product and prices are really good. The tourists will come."
Back in Cairo, I could hear my own footsteps as I walked through the corridors of the Egyptian Museum and stood alone in front of the death mask of Tutankhamun. It was hauntingly quiet. At the exit, the souvenir shop was closed and its shelves empty; nobody could explain why. There were more waiters than customers in the café.
I had a cup of tea there in the shadow of the burnt-out building of the former ruling National Democratic Party, which towers above the museum and is a potent reminder of why there are so few tourists here. The building's window panes had exploded, loose wires were hanging from the ceilings and blinds were flapping in the wind.
"There is a saying in Egypt," Mostafa had told me: "Whatever Egypt goes through, it never dies. It will come back again. Until then I will sit at home and wait, and at least have more time to spend with the kids."