GIZA, Egypt - It looked more like a fortified military zone than a top tourist attraction that draws millions of visitors: Metal barricades, tan-colored tanks and men in army fatigues blocked the way to the Giza pyramids on Saturday.
"This is the street of the pyramids?" asked Sabr Agaya, who offers camel and carriage rides, in a rhetorical tone."I can't believe this is the street. Sometimes my head spins."
Tourism in Egypt was devastated this week as museums and archaeological sites shut down and violence erupted, propelling looting and sinking the industry.
"My business died," said Agaya, standing among a pack of men with no work and a throng of emaciated horses. "No one comes."
Violence clawed through the country this week, killing nearly 900 people since Wednesday, when security forces cleared two protest camps.
"We cannot accept any reservations until next Saturday," said Mohammed Sabry, who works in the reservations department at the Cairo Four Seasons, "because as you know, there are bad circumstances around the hotel."
Many reservations were canceled at the Mena House Hotel - built in 1869 as a hunting lodge for Egyptian royalty at the foot of the pyramids - said deputy hotel manager Ahmed Salem. He blamed the government-imposed nightly 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and the fact "there is no clear idea about what will happen in the next few days."
Last week, two major German tour operators canceled all trips to Egypt after the nation's foreign ministry warned Europeans against visiting popular beach resorts. Other European countries followed suit and on Thursday, the U.S. State Department renewed a warning urging Americans to avoid traveling to the country.
Security forces over the weekend protected the pyramids "not because the area is unsafe," Salem said."It's a security measure: This is one of the most important places in Egypt."
Looters ransacked the Malawi Antiquities Museum overnight Thursday in Upper Egypt's city of Minya. Glass display cases were smashed and hundreds of artifacts were reported stolen. Others were left destroyed on the floor.
Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said Saturday that no other archaeological sites were exposed to attacks and that security measures at museums and sites nationwide were boosted, state news agency MENA reported.
The fresh hit to the tourism industry began when millions rose up against former president Mohammed Morsi at the end of June. But the troubles date back even farther - to the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.
Tourism is one Egypt's largest industries, employing 2.83 million professionals, according to the Egyptian Tourism Federation, a non-governmental group. That doesn't include informal workers.
In 2011, the industry generated an average of 11.3% of Egypt's GDP with receipts that year valued at $8.7 billion, the federation said.In 2011, the number of visitors to Egypt dropped by a third from previous year. The industry improved slightly in 2012 and saw an uptick of visitors in the beginning of 2013, according to official statistics, but was far from making a full recovery, particularly in Cairo.
The continuing downturn is devastating for many Egyptians who work as tour guides, sell souvenirs like papyrus and perfumes, or offer horse rides into the desert.
"I don't have money," said Mahmoud Al-Houry, 21, holding the reins of a horse and hoping tourists would come Saturday. "The horses don't eat."
The tourism situation is worse now than it was in 2011, said Martha Kjoell, a Norwegian volunteer who provides medicine and food for horses in Giza. "It's a disaster, really."
Most don't have job alternatives: Unemployment is up, the economy has been in steady decline and over the past two years there has been a halt in foreign and domestic investment.
"I have a lot of people who come to me and say, 'I can't feed my horse, please help me,' " Kjoell said.