Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Sharm now too serene

Sharm El-Sheikh is seeing fewer tourists as the Russian plane crash takes its toll on the resort’s normally vibrant life. Nesma Nowar tours the city

Al-Ahram Weekly

The empty streets of the normally bustling Neama Bay in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh attest to the blow the recent Russian plane crash over Sinai has caused to tourism in the city.

In a normal tourist season it is difficult to walk through Neama Bay, a popular palm tree-lined promenade filled with lively bars and restaurants. Now the starkly lit bay is nearly abandoned and the bars, restaurants and bazaars are competing to attract the already low number of tourists, hoping they will fill the empty spaces.

The dwindling number of tourists has left shop owners in despair. “Last week there were around 85,000 tourists. This week there’s only 20,000,” Ashraf Afifi, a shop owner in Neama Bay, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Afifi’s shop is filled with colourful garments and souvenirs but it is now almost empty most of the day. He’s not the only one; adjacent shops are in the same predicament.

The void is highly unusual during one of the busiest seasons of the year. November and December are usually a peak season for foreign holidaymakers seeking winter sun.

“I bought this shop just a few days before the plane crash to benefit from the high winter season,” said Afifi. His hopes are being dashed as tourist numbers dwindle by the day.

In a seafood restaurant in Neama Bay, worker Ahmed Salem points to only one occupied table. “This is the only table that’s had customers since the beginning of the day,” he said.

Other restaurants and cafes are also empty. At night, more people come but still, most places are running at half their capacity, if not less. “The problem is that tourists who leave the city are not being replaced because incoming flights are suspended,” Afifi added.

Russia and the UK have halted flights to Sharm El-Sheikh amid concerns that a bomb was the likely cause of the crash that killed 224 people aboard the Russian plane on 31 October. Of all nationalities, the two countries send the greatest number of tourists to Egypt.

UK tour operators and airlines have cancelled flights until at least 25 November, increasing the likelihood of the popular Red Sea resort remaining empty during the high season in December.

Halting flights has caused a series of cancellations in hotels across the city. On Monday alone, 16 rooms were cancelled in one of the main hotels in Neama Bay.

While Russia and Britain have been evacuating their nationals from Sharm, there are remaining Britons and Russians who can be seen enjoying their time in the city.

Some Britons are even mad at the UK’s decision to suspend flights. “We come here for these blue waters and the warm sun. We have never felt threatened or insecure here,” said Dan William, a British tourist accompanied by two friends.

William said they were enjoying their time but were concerned about their plans to return during Christmas should the UK continue to suspend flights to Sharm El-Sheikh.

Two other British tourists, who had just arrived at Sharm El-Sheikh Airport from Cairo, said they were neither concerned with the plane crash nor the UK’s decision to halt flights to the city.

“The media tend to exaggerate facts. They would rather interview tourists who are panicking or crying than to interview people like us who seem calm,” said Craig Wattson, one of the tourists.

Wattson added that they always enjoy Sharm El-Sheikh and had not encountered any problem in the city.

Though the current number of tourists in Neama Bay is relatively small, other places are fuller. Soho Square, another main hub for tourists, is bustling with visitors who appear to be enjoying themselves.

They can be seen taking a walk through the beautifully designed square, eating and smoking shisha (hookah), shopping, taking pictures, eating popcorn and enjoying the live shows hosted by the square.

Though the square is relatively filled with tourists, Mina Emad, the taftaf (mini train) driver who takes pedestrians in and out of the square, told the Weekly that the current number is nothing compared to the previous week. Pointing at a semi-empty parking lot, Emad said that on normal days the lot is packed with cars.

Several tourists interviewed by the Weekly said they are not concerned with the plane crash and that they have decided to continue their holiday.

“If tourists are afraid, you won’t see them walking freely like this in the streets,” said Sayed Attia, a taxi driver, pointing at a group of tourists who were crossing the street in beach attire.

Attia added that tourists who are regular visitors to Sharm El-Sheikh chose to stay, while others who are not familiar with the city, decided to flee, influenced by the “exaggerated” media coverage.

Ahmed Mustafa, a tour operator in Neama Bay, said he had to cancel tourist programmes for some Russian families after they cut short their holiday following the plane crash. Russia and the UK have brought back thousands of holidaymakers from Sharm El-Sheikh as an emergency measure.

With speculation rife surrounding what caused the plane crash, the situation in Sharm El-Sheikh will most likely get worse, with more tourists expected to leave the city.

However, workers and businesses in Sharm are hopeful that the situation is only temporary and that tourists will return to the resort for the rest of the peak season.

“The clear blue waters and warm sun of this beautiful city will bring tourists back,” Attia said. “I’m confident.”

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