Tuesday, 27 September 2011

James Watt: Rediscovering Luxor

James Watt: Rediscovering Luxor: Rediscovering Luxor
Posted 25 September 2011 by James Watt | 7 Comments

Just back from Luxor, my first visit as Ambassador. A wonderful memory of vast blue skies, above a landscape so timeless and historic that the stillness of it brings a calm to the soul that is rarely found in our hectic city lives. Brilliant green fields, stretching far either side of the Nile, touch the great temples and tombs of the West Bank, while on the East Bank Luxor as a town is full of colour and greenery around the vast temples of Karnak and Luxor.

I don't normally write this blog as a travel article, but I have to start with the sheer beauty of Luxor as a place. I had gone with my mind filled with all the obvious questions. How is tourism doing? How has the revolution affected Luxor? What do people feel about the future? I talked to the new Governor, Dr Izzat Saad, and other officials, to people in the tourism industry, and to some of the small British community living there. The picture they gave was very much the same. Tourism has been hit very hard by international nervousness about Egypt following the revolution of 25 January. The local economy is struggling as a result. Unemployment has risen and to some degree so have social tensions. But with my outsider's eye I could see this needed to be put in a wider context. Like all of Egypt, but more so, Luxor has superb tourist infrastructure. Not just some of the most stunning landscapes and ancient monuments in the world, and physical infrastructure such as hotels and cruise boats to match, but the human resources too which make this a enduring top-quality tourist destination. Hotel and other staff are trained to a very high standard, and have a spirit of hospitality unsurpassed in the world. The population as a whole welcomes tourists warmly - and is very tough on anyone who wants to disrupt this. The undisciplined behaviour of some taxi drivers and horse-cab drivers is currently the object of much criticism by local people, who know that such things can spoil Luxor's high reputation.

I am as puzzled as the next person by the way fears about tourist destinations are exaggerated and spread - not just by the international press, but by websites which claim to give objective travel advice but in reality do much damage to objectivity. Egypt remains a first-class holiday destination, whether you are seeking cuture and history, or simply time on the beach, or both. Prices are amazingly low as businesses struggle to get through this difficult year. The great monuments are almost empty of visitors. Safety in any place tourists are likely to go remains better than pretty much any country in Europe. Egypt deserves a much better fate.

Of course the governorate of Luxor is not only about tourism. Agriculture is the other main economic activity, and more can be done to develop industry and communications links. Britain is able and ready to help with this, as in the European Union, and I have taken ideas back with me to Cairo from the Governor for potential projects.

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