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Egypt branded more dangerous for tourists than Yemen

Nasser Nasser / AP

A foreign tourist takes a souvenir picture with an Egyptian guard during a visit to the Hatshepsut Temple, in Luxor, Egypt on Feb. 27, 2013.

Tourists have long flocked to Egypt to see the pyramids, take a trip up the majestic Nile or relax on one of its many sun-kissed beaches.

But, in a potentially damaging blow to its economy, Egypt has now been ranked below countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Chad for "safety and security" in an influential report on tourism by the World Economic Forum.

It is perhaps little wonder that tourists are spooked — amid ongoing political unrest, Molotov cocktails, gunfire and tear gas have become almost commonplace in some areas.

Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in Tahrir Square to mark the 2011 uprising that led to Egypt's change in power. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports. 

Two years after the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, protesters still return to Cairo’s Tahrir Square — where it all began — to demonstrate against the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and lament the country’s failing economy.

Earlier this month, Bedouin gunmen kidnapped a British couple who were on their way to the glittering beaches of Sharm El Sheikh. They were quickly released, but Bedouins have taken other hostages and also attacked police stations and blocked access to towns to show their discontent with what they see as their poor treatment by Cairo.

Last month, thugs attacked and entered the InterContinental hotel in Cairo, forcing it to close down while it implemented heightened security measures.

And there has been also been unrest over death sentences handed out to 21 soccer fans over a deadly riot at a stadium last year.

From terrorism to road accidents
The World Economic Forum report, The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2013, ranked Egypt overall in 85th place out of the 140 countries considered by the group, down 10 from last year. 

The safety and security category looked at "the costliness of common crime and violence as well as terrorism." It also considered the reliability of the police and the number of road traffic accidents.

Angry soccer fans took to the streets of Cairo Saturday, storming Egypt's soccer federation headquarters and setting it on fire. Two people were killed. NBC's Lester Holt reports.

Egypt was in 140th and last place on this list behind Yemen at 139, Chad at 138, and Pakistan at 137. The U.S. State Department has current travel warnings for the latter three countries, but not Egypt.

According to the Egypt’s state information service, tourism makes up 11.3 percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product.

In 2010, before the revolution, Egypt welcomed an estimated 14.7 million tourists who brought $12.5 billion in revenue. Last year, it had 11 million tourists bringing $10.5 billion in revenue.

Emile Asaad, manager of an American Express travel agency in the ancient city of Luxor, home to King Tut's tomb and the famous temples of Luxor and Karnak, said that “the important thing is that when people need to walk in the street they want to feel safe."

"We have over 400 boats on the Nile, there is still 20 to 25 percent occupancy on some of the most popular boats, but others are just sitting and not operating," he said. "We don't know how the future looks."

Adla Ragab, an economic advisor to the Egypt’s Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou, said officials were taken aback by the WEF report.

"When we first saw it, we were shocked. We held a lot of workshops to discuss this issue," she said by phone.

Ragab said media reports had led people to believe that Egypt is more dangerous than it actually is. She added that during a trip to the U.S., hotel staff had insisted on escorting her to a nearby restaurant after dark, but that didn’t mean she would advise people not to go to the U.S.

'It's a nice country'
A selection of foreign tourists in Egypt appeared to support Ragab’s view.

"I can say to anybody, go to Egypt! It's a nice country. There [are] so many things to see. It's very good weather, it's warm in the winter and there's no problem," Dirk Posner, of Leipzig, Germany, said while visiting the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Yuan Ye, from Shandong province, China, recommended that tourists use a trusted travel agency and explore the country with a group because of difficulties with facilities and services.

"I think generally it is safe for tourists, but you should be careful, very careful from the peddlers who try to sell you something — force to sell you something," he said with a smile.

Jaffar and Francoise Bentchikou, from Paris, France, also encouraged foreigners to visit.

"We saw that the problems were limited to some places so we just try to avoid them," Jaffar said. "[Tourists] have to be conscious of the situation, but for the time being we have seen nothing against tourists especially."

"We feel very bad about the revenue lost for tourism for the Egyptians," Francoise added.  "That is something that makes us very unhappy."

But travel companies said many people were staying away.

Bob Atkinson, a travel expert with the U.K.-based price-comparison website TravelSupermarket.com, said unrest in Egypt had "seriously affected the tourist trade."

"The Arab uprisings very much put the Egypt market into a tailspin," he said.

Flavia Jaber, owner of Toronto-based company Road to Travel, which includes Road to Egypt, said that "our business to Egypt is dead in the water at the moment."

"People are not going to Egypt right now, at least not from North America," she said.

"Definitely there are things going on in Egypt that are very unsavory and when you are considering going on a holiday, you want to go and relax, have a good time," she added. "You might say let’s not go to Egypt this year, let’s wait until things settle down."

However, there was at least one thing in Egypt's favor in the WEF report — the price. The country was ranked the fourth cheapest tourist destination in the world "with competitive hotel prices, low fuel costs and low prices more generally." 


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