China tourists
China tourists

Having lost its typical scene of buzzing foreign tourists, Egypt’s centuries-old Khan el-Khalili market in Old Cairo has been hit hard since the suspension of flights to and from China earlier in February over the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“We mainly relied on Chinese tourists in the past two years … they spend much money buying gifts and souvenirs,” Mohammed Hussein, an owner of antique shop at the market told Xinhua.

Hussein lamented that the outbreak of the virus hit China during the Spring Festival, “which is a hot season for tourism workers in Egypt.”

In addition to flight suspensions, Egypt’s travel agencies cancelled reservations by Chinese travel operators in several cities after the novel coronavirus spread to other countries.

The move has impacted Egypt’s tourism industry, which had recently seen a revival thanks to large inflows of Chinese tourists.

The political turmoil and security challenges following the ouster of two Egyptian presidents in 2011 and 2013 had greatly impacted tourism but the sector has gradually recovered as Cairo improved its security measures at airports and launched campaigns abroad to promote local attractions.

Chinese Cultural Counselor to Egypt Shi Yuewen said in an interview with Xinhua that more than half a million Chinese tourists visited Egypt in 2018.

For foreign tourists, including the Chinese, the Khan el-Khalili market, which is located in the heart of Cairo’s old Islamic district and dates back to 1382 A.D., is a key attraction in the Arab world’s most populous country.

Hussein’s neighbor, restaurant-owner Sayed Labib, said the market used to bustle with Chinese tourists.

He said that the Cairo’s oldest bazaar was nearly deserted for nearly a decade until Chinese tourists revived the market over the past two years.

“The Chinese tourists love this market since it has everything they need, from antiques to home-made perfume and even spices of all varieties,” Labib said. “They also enjoy the ancient character of the marketplace and the surrounding buildings.”

“If Chinese tourists don’t come back to Cairo soon, business will diminish,” Labib said as he drank a cup of Turkish coffee in front of his near empty restaurant. “Over 50 percent of the market’s businesses rely on Chinese tourists.”

The cries of small businesses are being heard. On Thursday, EgyptAir, the flagship carrier of Egypt, announced it will resume flights to and from China starting from Feb. 27.

The national airline will operate a flight every Thursday from Cairo to Beijing and then to Guangzhou. The return flight will start from Guangzhou and stop in Beijing before flying to Cairo.

Despite EgyptAir’s move, business owners and tourist agents at the bazaar understand it could take months before Chinese tourists flock back to Cairo.

“The situation in China is serious, and I don’t think that the Chinese people will leave their homeland in such difficult conditions just yet,” Hussein said.

However, Hussein wasn’t without hope. “The hard times will be over and things will get better. All we want now is safety for the friendly people of China.” Enditem

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