Stopping by Sharm El-Sheikh’s Old Market, the once crowded bazaars and shops seemed empty; however, the market’s salespeople stressed they will never shut down and will continue their wait.
Workers at one bazaar in the market explained that the reduction in tourism traffic did not begin after the plane crash; it began on 30 June. “The plane crash only proved to everyone that there is no tourism, but it was already suffering,” they said.
The salespeople said they cannot pay the full rent, so they have been forced to pay between 40% and 70% of the rent to the owners.
Asked whether they are able to cover their costs, the bazaar workers said it varies from month to month. “Our revenues have fallen by 99% in two years,” one worker said.
Most of the shops close by day and open by night when potential tourists usually come, they said, “but no one can fully close his shop”.
According to them, Russians who were coming to Sharm El-Sheikh were middle-income. “They don’t spend much money, but their numbers were huge so they were stimulating tourism,” they said.
The next bazaar was in a better condition. There were Tunisian tourists who said they were never afraid to come to Sharm El-Sheikh. “We understand; we faced similar conditions during the Arab Spring in 2011,” a Tunisian said.
The rent costs of shops and bazaars in the Old Market range between EGP 16,000 and EGP 40,000 per month, and they pay a percentage in line with the percentage of tourism rates in Sharm.
According to a worker, the tourism flow under the rule of Islamist former president Mohamed Morsi was better.
“Some people here can’t even earn their living costs,” salespeople at a third bazaar said. “Before the plane incident, we at least had money to buy our needs, now we don’t.”
Shop renters in the Old Market pay between EGP 400,000 and EGP 600,000 to insurance companies. “If there are damages in the shop, they use this money to fix it and if there is more money, we can take or we can’t, it depends,” they said.
Mahmoud, a salesman in a small dessert shop in the Old Market, said he was hoping to increase his sales during the winter, which is the high season for tourism in Sharm El-Sheikh. “But now it feels like a desert,” he said.
According to him, tourism rates were better before the 30 June 2013 protests because there were Turkish tourists, “as Turkey was supporting Morsi”.
Blaming the media coverage, Mahmoud said he was shocked when he saw some reports on TV channels portraying that the tourism rates in the city as having surpassed 75%, “while we are sitting here waiting for anyone to pass by. I felt they were talking about another city,” he said.
“Before the plane crash, tourism rates didn’t even reach 60%,” Mahmoud added.
Shops and bazaars in the Old Market are estimated to be around 1,500 shops.
Another 25-year-old salesman, who left Cairo seeking better conditions in Sharm, said that the number of closed shops increases at a constant rate every year. “Shops started to close after the revolution, until they currently reached a high rate [of closure],” Kareem said.
“After 2011, the curve is only going down,” Kareem stated.
On why he continues to work in the market despite the slump, Kareem said: “I thought it was better than Cairo.”