Luxor, Egypt: Having briskly arrayed his merchandise of souvenirs, Abdo Mansour stood in front of his store in this ancient Egyptian city, welcoming potential clients.
He chatted in English laced with an Upper Egyptian dialect with a group of foreign tourists, who had just stopped by to check his goodies.
“I have original alabaster statues and local scarves, which you won’t find anywhere else in Luxor,” the 35-year old vendor said proudly.
“Don’t worry about the price. You’ll be pleased.”
After brief haggling, Mansour and the visitors cut a deal.
“The situation is better than before,” he said shortly after the group left for a neighbouring temple.
“The worst is over, although the earnings aren’t as high as those of the Mubarak days,” he added, referring to long-time president Hosni Mubarak who was forced to resign by a 2011 popular uprising.
Once a major foreign currency earner for Egypt, the tourism industry bore the brunt of the upheavals that followed Mubarak’s ouster.
In October 2015, Egypt’s tourism suffered a crushing blow when a Russian passenger plane crashed in Sinai shortly after its departure from the popular Red Sea resort of Sharm Al Shaikh.
All 224 people on board were killed.
Russia said that the jet had been brought down by a terrorist bomb and halted all its flights to Egypt.
Daesh terrorists claimed responsibility for the alleged bombing.
“The past years have been like a nightmare,” Mansour told Gulf News.
“I had to fire four employees in order to cut costs after tourists stopped showing up. Several hotels in Luxor turned into malls and even hospitals in order to earn some money. But in recent months, things have got better. Now I have two employees to assist me.”
Mansour’s bazaar is located near the Temple of Hatshepsut where 62 people, mostly foreign tourists, were killed in a militant attack in 1997.
Egypt has also experienced a spate of extremist assaults since the army’s 2013 overthrow of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi following enormous street protests against his rule.
Stability has largely been re-established in the country since incumbent President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi took power in 2014.
In April last year, Russia, whose nationals used to make up around 30 per cent of Egypt’s pre-revolution tourist visitors, resumed its passenger flights to Cairo.
Russian direct charter flights have yet to operate to main Egyptian tourist destinations.
“This winter season is great and promising for Luxor,” said Egyptian tour guide Mahmoud Abdul Latif.
“Tourists from different nationalities keep coming to Luxor, enjoying its matchless antiquities and warm sun. They’ve come from Germany, France, Japan, India, China and Even Russia,” he told this newspaper.
“The flotation of the Egyptian pound [in 2016] against foreign currencies has also made Egypt an inexpensive destination for tourists.”
Abdul Latif believes that the numbers of tourist visitors to Luxor, around 670 kilometres south of Cairo, will soon equal those who used to flock to the city at Egypt’s peak tourism years before the 2011 uprising.
A record 15 million people visited Egypt in 2010.
“Hadn’t it been due to the recent Giza incident, Luxor would have seen this season its highest inflow of foreign tourists since the revolution,” added Abdul Latif, a native of Luxor.
In late December, three Vietnamese tourists and their Egyptian guide were killed after a roadside bomb hit their bus in Giza near the famed Pyramids south of Cairo.
The attack was the first to target foreign tourists in Egypt in more than a year.
“Despite everything, the situation of tourism, especially in Luxor is getting better. The image of Egypt as a stable country is encouraging tourists to visit the country. Recent archaeological discoveries have also refocused world attention on Luxor. Where else can you see such a large open museum?” he said, referring to Luxor.
The Nile city is populated by around 506,000 people, mostly working in tourism and agriculture. Once a capital of ancient Egypt, Luxor was part of the present-day province of Qena until Luxor was officially declared a province in 2009. Luxor is home to a wealth of monuments, including the famed Karnak temple complex and the Valley of Kings.
The city celebrates its annual day on November 4, which marks the day in 1922 when the tomb of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun was discovered intact in the Valley of Kings by British archaeologist Howard Carter.
Some foreign tourists expressed joy over being in Luxor.
“People here are friendly. The weather is fine and the city is wonderful,” said an Italian visitor named Marco as he toured the Karnak Temples on the eastern bank of the Nile.
“I came here in the late 1990s and had a fantastic stay that I always remember. This time I’ve come with my wife Linda. We had a great flight over Luxor in a hot air balloon at dawn,” he said. “We also plan to attend a sound and light show at Karnak to learn more about its great history before going on a Nile cruise. We look forward to all of this.”