Egypt in fear for tourist season after latest bombings

Sunday 25/12/2016
German tourists are welcomed at the international airport of Egypt’s Red Sea town of Sharm el-Sheikh upon their arrival at the holiday resort on October 31st, 2015. (AFP)

Cairo - Egyptians have expressed concern that recent ter­rorist attacks will affect the number of visits by foreigners after its tour­ism sector had made considerable improvement after a year of sharp drop-offs.
Larger numbers of tourists have been seen, mainly on the streets of Cairo and in the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, in recent months. Hotel occupancy in those areas — not more than 10% in the past months — showed a steady rise, Tourism Ministry figures indi­cated.
The latest attacks, security ex­perts said, aim to scare tourists away and spoil the winter season, which usually attracts hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors to Egypt.
“They target tourism in the first place,” retired police general Mamdouh al-Kidwani said. “The attacks’ masterminds know that tourism is the backbone of the economy, which is why they have their eyes fixed on it.”
After months of relative calm, Cairo is again a centre of terrorist action. A man set off an explosive suicide vest on December 11th in a church in downtown Cairo, killing 24 women and a child and leaving scores of Christians wounded. The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed respon­sibility for the bombing and vowed to target Christians.
Earlier, six policemen were killed when a bomb went off near their checkpoint near the Giza pyramids.
Tourism experts said the wave of violence has the goal of destroying the winter tourism season, which coincides with Christmas celebra­tions.
“This time every year, Egypt re­ceives hundreds of thousands of tourists who come to spend the New Year vacation and enjoy the wonderful weather in the resorts and in Luxor and Aswan,” said Na­gui Erian, a member of the board of the Federation of Tourism Indus­tries. “To strike now is to scare all these people away and deliver the message that Egypt is not safe.”
Egypt pinned a lot of hope on 2015’s tourist season to bring in much-needed foreign currency revenues but the season was dealt a deadly blow when ISIS bombed a Russian passenger plane in late No­vember after it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh.
The bombing, which killed 224 passengers and crew members, led to flight suspensions by Rus­sia, Britain and Italy, which used to send Egypt close to 5 million tour­ists every year combined.
Only 4 million tourists visited Egypt in 2016, down from 9.3 mil­lion in 2015 and 9.9 million in 2014. This is catastrophic for a country in which tourism usually accounts for 12% of the national income. In 2016, tourism revenues were $4 bil­lion, much less than the $6.1 billion in 2015 and $7.5 billion in 2014.
Approximately 14 million tour­ists visited Egypt in 2010, the year before Egyptians revolted against long-standing president Hosni Mubarak. In 2010, tourism reve­nues totalled $12 billion.
Following the Russian plane bombing, close to 70% of Egypt’s 5 million tourism workers became jobless in 2016.
Out of the 216 hotels in Sharm el-Sheikh, 100 closed in the same year and others stopped operat­ing in Hurghada and other places. In Luxor, horse-drawn cart owners who used to offer tourists rides at bargain prices became incapable of feeding their animals.
By launching a multimillion-dollar tourism promotion plan to convince countries to reverse flight suspensions, Egypt hopes to at­tract 17 million tourists in 2017.
It also plans to return millions of tourism workers to work and create enough jobs to increase the number of people working in the tourism sector from 12.6% of the national workforce to 17%, indus­try officials said
However, soon after the bomb­ings in Cairo and Giza, an interna­tional marketing company man­aging Egypt’s tourism promotion campaign, suspended the cam­paign to assess reaction to the at­tacks, Erian said.
Economists say a weak tourism season will undermine the econo­my, deprive Egypt of much-needed foreign currency revenues and ex­acerbate the country’s unemploy­ment problem.
“Tourism is indispensable for the economy, given its contribution to the national income and the large number of people it employs,” economist Khaled al-Shafie said. “To prevent a negative effect from the latest attacks, the Tourism Min­istry must act quickly to send as­surances that our country is safe.”