Egyptian tourism woes continue as summer season approaches

Friday 08/04/2016
Tourists walk outside King Tutankhamun’s tomb at the Valley of the Kings, near Egypt’s southern city of Luxor, on March 31st.

London - Concerns are high within Egypt’s flagging tourism industry as international holidaymakers, with the summer-travel booking season in full swing, show little appetite to visit the North African state due to heightened security concerns.

Tourism in Egypt was hit hard by suspected security lapses that led to the bombing of a Russian pas­senger plane travelling from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to the Russian city of St Petersburg on October 31st, 2015, killing all 224 people aboard.

Russia and Britain suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, and travel advisories remain in place. About 3 million Russians and 1 mil­lion Britons visited Egypt in 2015, out of the 9.3 million total interna­tional visitors. That overall figure was down from around 15 million visitors a year before the 2011 revo­lution.

Egypt’s tourism industry has lost about $1.3 billion since November, Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Is­mail said, with the number of visi­tors to Sharm el-Sheikh in January reported down as much as 85% from the previous year.

After the Russian plane crash, Egyptian Tourism Ministry official Mohamed Yousef estimated that Egypt’s tourism industry would be significantly hit by international travel advisories. “The loss will be 70% of the tourist influx,” he was quoted as saying by Egyptian me­dia. The decrease in the number of tourists visiting Egypt has actually been higher, with public anger fo­cusing on Tourism minister Hish­am Zazou.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi replaced Zazou in the latest cabinet reshuffle. Many hope that new Tourism Minister Mohamed Yehia Rashed will have better luck restoring Egypt’s tourism industry, which accounts for 11.3% of Egypt’s gross domestic product and around 15% of the country’s foreign cur­rency revenues. Approximately 4 million Egyptians work in Egypt’s tourism sector, which is about 13% of total Egyptian employment.

Rashed faces a difficult task, with security in Egypt making recent in­ternational headlines following the murder of an Italian student under suspicious circumstances and the hijacking of an EgyptAir flight.

His biggest challenge lies in con­vincing Russians and Britons to re­turn to Egypt, a challenge that grew after Thomas Cook, one of Britain’s biggest travel companies, extend­ed its suspension of bookings to Sharm el-Sheikh until November 2016.

Its initial ban was due to end May 25th and Thomas Cook and other British companies had been selling holiday trips but it has withdrawn the offers since the British Foreign Office’s advisory against all but es­sential travel to Sharm el-Sheikh remains in force. “We appreciate that this may be frustrating for our customers who have been looking forward to their holiday,” a Thomas Cook statement said.

The Egyptian Tourism Ministry expressed disappointment at the decision and its effect on Egypt’s tourist industry. “The decision means that the destination [Sharm el-Sheikh] is closed to the British tourism market that flows through Thomas Cook for a whole year, which is weird and negatively af­fects Egypt’s situation,” Egyptian Tourism Authority Chairman Sami Mahmoud was quoted as saying in local media.

British tourists show little in­clination to return to the once popular tourist resort anyway. A British petition calling on flight re­strictions to Sharm el-Sheikh to be removed has secured fewer than 3,000 signatures. “We are willing to travel and have flights and holidays booked,” said the petition, which was created by Felix McMahon in November 2015.

Petitions need 100,000 signa­tures to receive an official govern­ment response and be considered for debate in parliament.

Since November, Egyptians have sought to revive the tourism indus­try with a number of government and non-government agencies launching different initiatives.

The Tourism Fund, affiliated to Egypt’s Tourism Ministry, launched a “recovery” plan for Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh that has seen the government subsidise flights to the resorts.

The Tourism Ministry also signed a cooperation protocol with the UN World Tourism Organisation (UN­WTO) in February, although this has also had little demonstrable ef­fect.