Tourism damaging Egyptian heritage
Booming tourism, a key part of Egypt's economy, is having a catastrophic effect on the country's unique cultural heritage, experts said on Wednesday.
So large were the numbers of people now visiting Egypt's famed ancient sites like the Valley of the Kings that they were causing serious damage in a way that even centuries of weather had failed to do, they said at a meeting in London.
"Tourists are scuffing walls with bags and bodies, wearing away paintings and colour," Michael Jones, of the American Research Centre in Egypt, said during the meeting of the British Egyptian Society and the London Middle East Institute.
"The humidity caused by the crowds' breathing and perspiration is also taking a terrible toll on the fabric," he added.
After tailing off sharply following a string of attacks by militant Islamists in the 1990s, tourist numbers in Egypt climbed to eight million in 2004 and up again to 8.6 million last year.
Figures from the Egyptian Tourism Authority show that in the first six months of this year tourist numbers were 12 percent up on the same period the previous year, and there are plans to boost numbers to 16 million by 2014.
Jones, a speaker at the Anglo-Egyptian conference to mark 50 years since the diplomatic crisis caused by Britain's invasion of the Suez canal, was not alone in his concerns.
"The time has now come...to initiate a detailed study of the damage being caused to all Egypt's sites," said Egyptologist Gaballa Ali Gaballa, a former head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
"Above all we must work with the tourism industry on this to raise awareness and seek solutions. We all gain from tourism but seeing the damage it is causing makes you feel very sorry indeed," he added.