Egypt desperately seeking Russian tourists

Sunday 14/08/2016
A March 2016 picture shows an empty swimming pool at a hotel in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Cairo - An initiative by a group of Egyptian hotels is de­signed to encourage Rus­sian tourists to visit and mitigate the country’s tourism crisis but is, above all, an expression of the deplorable condi­tions of Egypt’s tourism sector.
“The tourism sector has been suf­fering an unprecedented recession for months now,” said Adel Abdel- Razek, a member of the Tourism Chamber, the independent union of Egypt’s hotel owners and tour oper­ators. “Hotel occupancy is reaching a record low, which is forcing some hotels to shut down.”
The initiative seeks to encourage Russian tourists who cancelled res­ervations in Turkey due to political unrest and security risks to spend their holiday in Egypt.
The hotel owners offer a five-day free stay in important Egyptian re­sorts, including Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada.
The initiative is an attempt by hotel owners to revive tourism, ac­cording to Ehab Moussa, a member of the Tourism Support Alliance, which launched the initiative.
“More hotels are participating in the initiative every day,” Moussa said. “It aims to encourage the Rus­sians to come here once more.”
Turkey has fallen prey to unrest as a result of an attempted coup on July 15th. The failed putsch was fol­lowed by a massive crackdown on dissent within the army and state in­stitutions. Approximately 4 million Russian tourists a year used to visit Turkey before Russian-Turkish rela­tions deteriorated after the downing by Turkish forces of a Russian war­plane on the border with Syria in November 2015.
The Egyptian initiative is less about Turkey, however, and more about Egypt, which has seen its tourism sector battered by a series of tragedies, including the bombing of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai peninsula last October.
Moscow suspended flights to Egyptian tourist destinations, a huge blow to the tourism sector, which used to receive an average of 3 million Russian tourists a year. The Russian flight suspension was followed by a series of other suspen­sions from major tourism markets, including Britain and Italy.
Tourism visits in April were 74% lower than in April 2015, according to the Tourism Ministry. In June, 329,000 tourists arrived in Egypt, compared with 820,000 in June 2015, the ministry said.
Abdel-Razek said hotel occupancy in important resorts, such as Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada had fallen to 25% and were even lower in other tourist destinations.
“Almost half the hotels in the two resorts had to shut down,” Abdel- Razek said. “This has caused the loss of thousands of jobs and mas­sive devastation of livelihoods.”
A stagnant tourism sector usu­ally means economic catastrophe in Egypt. In 2014, tourism revenues amounted to $7.5 billion and those revenues totalled $6.1 billion last year. Revenues in 2016 are expect­ed to be a fraction of those figures, tourism experts said.
To rescue its tourism sector, Cairo has been appealing to the Russian and Western governments to re­sume flights to Egyptian tourism destinations. Those governments are, however, making the flight re­sumption conditional on improving security at Egypt’s airports.
Security systems have been up­dated to match Western standards, security experts said.
“New checkpoints were intro­duced at departure and arrival ter­minals, new detection equipment was imported and security person­nel were sent outside to receive training,” security expert Ehab Youssef said.
There is also a new foreign secu­rity team checking security meas­ures at airports every day to ensure that Egypt is implementing security recommendations that Western se­curity agencies demanded.
Youssef said most of the reports from those teams on security meas­ures at airports have been positive.
This is one reason tourism experts such as Moussa expect larger num­bers of tourists to return by early 2017.
He said the new initiative seeks to encourage tourists to travel to Egypt and lead to a quick resumption of Western flights to the country.
“I think there will be a strong reaction from tourists to the ini­tiative,” Moussa noted. “Those who will come here will see that there is nothing they can fear in Egypt.”