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Tourism Down in Egypt After Bombings

Tourism has dropped off dramatically on Egypt's Red Sea coast after bomb attacks in the resort town of Sharm el Sheikh more than a week ago killed at least 64 people and injured more than 120 others.

Sharm el Sheikh's pedestrian zone is lined with restaurants, cafes and shops. It is an area normally crowded with tourists who come here after a day at the beach.

But, the area is emptier than usual and business is down.

Milad Handri works in one of the restaurants and he is having a much harder time bringing in customers. He says there is still some business, but not like before. He says the bombings that killed and injured so many people definitely have had an impact. He says some tourists left after the attacks and business has been hurt.

Sharm el Sheikh is Egypt's tourist gold mine. Located on the southern end of the eastern coast of the Sinai Peninsula, it draws tourists from afar - mainly from Italy, Britain, Germany, the Nordic countries and Russia. But, depending on the time of year and holiday season it also sees its share of visitors from other parts of Egypt and nearby Arab countries.

Italian businessman Ernesto Preatoni is the largest foreign investor in Sharm el Sheikh and co-owner of the Coral Beach resort. He says last year more than one million Italian tourists came here, making them the largest single group of visitors. Numbers dropped drastically after the attacks.

"Seventy-percent of the Italians, they canceled. Forty-two percent of the Egyptians canceled. That is very bad. Only 18-percent of the English and almost zero of Ukrainians and Russians [canceled]," he said.

Egyptian tour operator, Mustafa Zaghlol is the regional manager of Bright Sky Travel. He says the bombings came as a shock to an area that thought itself safe from terrorist attacks. He says as a result overall bookings are down by 50 percent and the impact of that drop will be widely felt throughout the Egyptian economy.

"Here in Sharm, everything, not only people working directly in tourism, but even those who are working in the supplying industries are 100 percent depending on tourism," he said.

Hitting the Egyptian economy was the obvious aim of the terrorists, says the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Egypt's oldest and most revered religious institution. Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi led public prayers in Sharm el Sheikh's central mosque last Friday and vehemently condemned the bombings.

The Sheikh said those behind the bombings wanted to hurt Egypt, to set it back. He also said the perpetrators are criminals who deserve death for killing innocent civilians, which the Sheikh said is against Islam.

Police presence in Sharm el Sheikh has been significantly beefed up and patrols are very evident. Checkpoints leading into the town have also been strengthened and the hunt for those behind the bombings continues.

But, not all the tourists have left town. Allan and Suzanne Thomas came here two weeks ago from Britain and decided to finish off their vacation as scheduled.

"Our attitude has basically been, if you were back home you could literally walk across the street and get knocked down by a bus or a car," they said. "If it is going to happen, it can happen anywhere. Especially back home in Britain, we have all got the attitude you cannot let the terrorists win so you have got to go about your normal life."

That kind of talk gives hope to travel operators, like Mustafa Zaghlol.

"First of all, it would not help to be pessimistic," he said. "What happened, happened. It is our goal, all here living in Sharm, to bring things back to normal. I hope that we will all manage at the end of the day to do it."

Mr. Zaghlol acknowledges that Sharm el Sheikh's peak summer season is lost, but he says, there is hope that tourists will come back in the months to come.