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Egyptology is having a moment, but will tourists come?

The centuries-old Khan el Khalili market, a major tourist site in Cairo, on November 30, 2020. Egyptology is having a big moment, with important new and recent archaeological discoveries. But Internat
The centuries-old Khan el Khalili market, a major tourist site in Cairo, on November 30, 2020. Egyptology is having a big moment, with important new and recent archaeological discoveries. But International tourism, a mainstay of Egypt’s economy, has plunged since the pandemic began. (Photo: NYTimes)
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CAIRO — On a cool morning last November, Egypt’s tourism and antiquities minister, Khaled Al-Enany, stood in a packed tent at the vast necropolis of Saqqara just outside Cairo to reveal the ancient site’s largest archaeological discovery of the year.اضافة اعلان

The giant trove included 100 wooden coffins — some containing mummies interred over 2,500 years ago — 40 statues, amulets, canopic jars, and funerary masks.

Egyptology is having a big moment: Archaeologists announced this month that they had unearthed an ancient pharaonic city near the southern city of Luxor that dated back more than 3,400 years. But the pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the tourism industry, and what had been expected to be a bonanza season became a bleak winter.

Tourism is a crucial part of Egypt’s economy — international tourism revenues totaled $13 billion in 2019 — and the country has been eager to attract visitors back to its archaeological sites.

Egypt is aiming for tourism revenues of $6 billion to $7 billion in 2021, deputy tourism minister, Ghada Shalaby, told Reuters news service on Sunday.

But, with travel restrictions, border closings and reduced capacity at hotels, international visitors to Egypt dropped by 69 percent in the first eight months of 2020 alone, and revenues plunged by 67 percent in the same period, according to the World Tourism Organization, a United Nations agency.

Tourism usually accounts for up to 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and Egypt expects to see around 60 percent of the number of visitors it had in 2019 this year, Shalaby told Reuters.

However, amid a growing number of cases, health officials in Egypt have recently warned of a third wave of the virus. Authorities have canceled large gatherings and festivals and promised to fine those not complying with protective measures like mask-wearing, but many Egyptians do not abide by these rules.

Travelers are required to have a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours before arriving in Egypt, and hotels are mandated to operate at half capacity.

With shrinking bookings, the government has introduced measures including rescheduling debt repayments, providing financial aid to tourism workers, and allowing certain tourism-dependent businesses like hotels and resorts to delay payment of utility bills.

Meanwhile, areas usually swamped by tourists remain quiet.

At the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo, Mahrous Abu Seif, a tour guide, sat waiting for clients one morning. A few small tour groups were going through metal detector scans to enter the museum. “We sit here and wait and wait,” he said. “We don’t know what the future holds.”

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