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Unrest delivers huge blow to Egyptian tourism

Shops in the Khan El-Khalili market in Cairo, which offer souvenirs such as the one below, have been suffering.

Manu Brabo/Associated Press

Shops in the Khan El-Khalili market in Cairo have been suffering.

CAIRO — Heshmat Youssef used to make a decent living sailing foreign tourists down Egypt’s Nile River. Since political unrest flared, business has dried up faster than water in the desert.

Riots and killings that flared after the Aug. 14 crackdown against followers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi have delivered a severe blow to Egypt’s tourism industry, which until recently accounted for more than 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and nearly 20 percent of its foreign currency revenues.

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The chairman of the Egyptian Airports Co., Gad el-Karim Nasr, said arrivals at Egyptian airports have dropped by more than 40 percent from Sunday through Tuesday compared to the same time the previous week. He said that over the same time, 13,000 tourists, mostly from Germany and Italy, have left the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada — with only 3,000 new arrivals.

With the United States and governments in Europe advising their citizens to avoid Egypt, the impact threatens the livelihood of the one in eight Egyptians who earn their money from tourism.

‘‘We want to live in stability and for tourism to come back,’’ said Youssef, who hasn’t seen holiday makers in weeks. ‘‘Let us eat already. We are extremely tired.’’

The latest shock occurred just as Egypt’s tourism industry, which injected more than $10 billion into the economy last year, was slowly recovering from the blow suffered from the 2011 uprising against ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Shops in the Khan El-Khalili market in Cairo offer souvenirs such as the one above.

Manu Brabo/Associated Press

Shops in the Khan El-Khalili market in Cairo offer souvenirs such as the one above.

That uprising already had prompted some US operators to pull out of Egypt.

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But the drop in US visitors, who favor ancient monuments like the Pyramids outside Cairo and the tombs and temples of the Nile Valley, did not affect the resilient European market. Every year millions of sun-starved Europeans swarm the Red Sea beaches far from the chaos of the cities.

Now, the European market, too, is drying up.

Major European travel companies have canceled bookings through October after televised scenes of chaos and European governments’ warnings to avoid Egypt.

Anja Braun, a spokeswoman for TUI, one of Germany’s biggest travel operators, said the company has canceled all trips to Egypt until Sept. 15. Customers can either rebook a trip to a different destination free of charge or get their money back, she said.

Costa Crociere SpA, one of Italy’s main cruise operators, has canceled all Red Sea cruises and stops in Egypt through the 2013-2014 winter season.

‘‘Egypt is the number one tourist destination for Italians,’’ said Massimo Broccoli, commercial director of Veratour tour operator. ‘‘Clearly there will be an economic impact.’’

In France, the Association of Tour Operators suspended tours to Cairo, the Red Sea, and all other cities until further notice.

Even the lucrative Russian market, which accounted for the largest share of foreign tourists at 14 percent, is feeling the effects.

Planes are still leaving Moscow’s airports for Egypt, packed with travelers who already paid for their trips and cannot cancel without a penalty payment. But the Association of Tour Operators of Russia reports that about 30 percent of the advance package tours to Egypt have been cancelled.

Those who do venture to Egypt will find restaurants and bars closing early due to a curfew in Cairo and many other areas except the Red Sea. Folklore shows and cultural events have been canceled.

Last year, 11.5 million foreigners visited Egypt, a 17 percent increase from the 9.8 million in 2011.

Egyptian officials, tourism employees, and foreign travel agents are hopeful this will happen again once stability returns.

Pamela Lassers of Abercrombie & Kent USA said that over the years ‘‘we have seen many ups and downs in the Middle East’’ and that the US industry believes that eventually Egypt ‘‘will once again be welcoming travelers to the country’s many World Heritage sites.’’

That’s small comfort to Youssef, the boat operator who is among the millions of Egyptians who rely on tourism.

With the tourists gone, Youssef has taken a job as a security guard. The $43 he earns each month provides for 10 people, including his wife and their four children, and his sister and her three.

‘‘Everyone is borrowing from everyone,’’ he said. ‘‘I swear to God, we are not living.’’

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