Egypt desperately seeking Russian tourists
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.”