EgyptAir crash is another blow to tourism sector
CAIRO - The cause of the crash of EgyptAir flight 804 with 66 people on board may take long to determine, but the incident will be an immediate blow to Egypt’s embattled tourism and aviation sectors, government and tourism officials said.
“This is particularly so because the crash comes hard on the heels of a series of tragic events strongly connected with the tourism and aviation sectors in our country,” said Magdy Selim, the head of the International Relations Section at the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism. “The problem is that tourism workers were hoping that the tourism sector would recover in the next few months, not receive a new blow.”
The Airbus A330-300 was en route from Paris to Cairo when it suddenly disappeared from air control radar screens early May 19th. The pilot did not issue a distress call, which aviation experts said was an indication of how sudden the incident must have been.
There were 30 Egyptian nationals and 15 French citizens on the plane, along with other passengers. There were also seven Egyptian crew members and three Egyptian air marshals.
A gloomy mood swept through Egypt after the plane’s apparent crash, with relatives of the Egyptian passengers gathering at Cairo Airport. Images of tearful and collapsing relatives filled newspaper pages, TV screens and social media.
The crash comes less than two months after another EgyptAir plane was hijacked by a man who claimed to be wearing an explosive belt. He forced the pilot to divert the flight to Cyprus, where he held the passengers and the crew hostage for hours before surrendering to Cypriot authorities.
Last October, a Russian passenger jet crashed over the Sinai peninsula minutes after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea Resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The Russian government determined a bomb planted aboard the plane caused an explosion that brought the plane down and killed all 224 people on board. The Islamic State (ISIS) said it planted the bomb.
The incidents badly affected Egyptian tourism and civil aviation sectors, officials said, especially after the subsequent flight suspensions imposed by Russia, Britain and a number of other countries.
“The tourism sector has not recovered until now, even after almost seven months since the Russian plane crash,” Selim said.
Tourism accounts for nearly 13% of Egypt’s total revenues, but the sector has been hit by political unrest and instability in the country since the 2011 popular uprising.
In 2010, 15 million tourists visited Egypt, pumping a total of $12.5 billion into the country’s coffers. In 2014, tourism revenues were $7.5 billion and in 2015 the figure was $9.3 billion. Revenues from tourism are expected to be sharply off in 2016.
“You can easily detect the effects from these accidents on the tourism sector by visiting tourist destinations that used to buzz with foreign tourists, including Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada,” said Adel Abdel Razek, a member of the Egyptian Federation for Tourist Chambers. “The effect is quite palpable there.”
Hotels are closing down and workers are losing their jobs, according to the federation, which says hotel occupancy in the two destinations has dropped to 20% of capacity.
The future does not seem to augur well for the tourism sector.
The Russian newspaper Moscow Times on May 20th quoted a “high-ranking” Russian source as saying that air travel between Russia and Egypt would not resume if it was confirmed that EgyptAir flight 804 had crashed.
Nearly 2 million Russians used to visit Egypt every year, along with 1 million tourists from Britain and another million from Italy. These countries will not likely lift their flight suspensions soon, especially after the latest crash, tourism experts said.
“This is why we badly need a very aggressive international tourism campaign to bring confidence back in our country as a tourist destination,” Abdel Razek said. “If we do not do this, we will lose the tourists who visit us from one country after another.”