Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Reviving tourism

As Egypt’s tourism sector continues to struggle, new efforts are being made to revive the industry, writes Nesma Nowar

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s tourism sector is still reeling from the repercussions of the downing of a Russian airliner over Sinai last year that caused revenues to fall by 66 per cent in the first quarter of 2016.

Only two million tourists travelled to Egypt in this period, down from 2.2 million a year earlier, and the country garnered just US$500 million in tourism revenues in the first quarter of 2016, down from US$1.5 billion last year.

Finance minister Amr al-Garhi said in a press conference recently that tourism receipts were expected to range from between US$4 billion to US$4.5 billion by end of this year. Total tourism revenues in 2015 were US$6.1 billion.

Al-Garhi attributed the sharp drop in revenues to the blows the tourism sector has seen over the last nine months, including the downing of the Russian airliner that killed all 224 people on board and resulted in the halting of all passenger flights from Russia to Egypt amid concerns about security in Egyptian airports.

The ban on Russian flights drove the number of incoming Russian tourists down by more than 50 per cent. Several European countries, including the UK, have also suspended flights to the Sinai resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh.

Though Egypt has been seeking to tighten airport security measures since the incident, and the government has repeatedly said that flights from Russia will resume soon, it not yet clear when they are likely to be restored.

Russian transport minister Maxim Sokolov told the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti earlier this month that Russia anticipated Egypt would be able to meet the necessary security requirements by the end of October.

“It depends on them. It’s hard to give any sort of promises or forecasts on their behalf. We are making an assessment and believe that the comprehensive conditions might be fulfilled around the end of October,” Sokolov said. Russian flight safety experts are to make a visit to Cairo in September to inspect the implementation of the recommendations.

Egypt’s aviation minister Sherif Fathy paid a visit to Russia in July during which he briefed Russian officials on the security measures adopted at Egyptian airports and looked into the resumption of Russian civilian flights to Egypt.

The visit was followed by another alongside public prosecutor Nabil Sadek that provided Russian officials with the findings of Cairo’s investigation into the crash. Egypt said it had fulfilled 85 per cent of Russia’s demands on aviation safety and was expecting steps to be taken by the Russian side towards resuming flights.

Elhami al-Zayat, head of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, said the resumption of Russian flights to Egypt could be accelerated should Egypt agree on Russia’s security requests, including the presence of Russian security personnel in Egyptian airports to monitor the implementation of the security measures.

It is not yet clear whether Egypt will agree to this request. Chair of the Egyptian Airports Company Adel Mahgoub said in a statement in March that he rejected the idea, saying it was “unacceptable” as it could violate Egypt’s sovereignty.

However, al-Zayat said the idea was not a new one and similar requests had been made and implemented in other countries.

He said he was optimistic about an imminent lift of the flight ban after “positive” news that included the handover of security screening in Sharm El-Sheikh airport to the National Falcon Company for Airport Security, due to start this month.

“This is a very positive step,” al-Zayat said, adding that the handover would mean that highly trained civilian personnel would be in charge of airport security. Falcon will be in charge of passenger and luggage security in the airport’s halls, while the police will secure the airport, terminals, parking lots and buildings, according to chair of the Holding Company for Airports and Air Navigation Ismail Abul-Ezz.

The company will apply international recommendations on airport security and will later also take over security procedures at Hurghada, Marsa Alam, Luxor, Aswan and Borg al-Arab airports, as well as at Cairo Airport’s terminal two, which is being upgraded and expanded.

The National Falcon Company for Airport Security is a joint venture between the Falcon Group and the security authorities. The company signed an agreement in June with British company Restrata for Consulting and Training to develop the skills of 7,000 Egyptian Falcon Group personnel in airport security procedures.

Another piece of positive news was the reaction of the British media towards president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s call to British prime minister Theresa May earlier this month, al-Zayat said. “This favourable reaction is very important and reflects positively on the resumption of UK flights to Sharm El-Sheikh,” he told the Weekly.

On 3 August, al-Sisi spoke with May about the current suspension of UK flights to Sharm El-Sheikh. According to a Downing Street spokesperson, May said she recognised the economic effects of the suspension and praised the Egyptian government’s efforts to improve security at Sharm El-Sheikh Airport, adding that the UK government would continue working closely with the Egyptian government on this important issue.

The flight ban has had a devastating effect on tourism, al-Zayat said. “This year has been the worst ever in the sector’s history,” he commented, adding that once the flights were restored the tourism sector would rebound.

It is hoped that starting in September Egypt will see more European tourists in Sharm El-Sheikh. This week, Al-Ahram daily reported that governor of South Sinai Khaled Foda had announced the success of negotiations with German airlines and tour operators to schedule six weekly flights from Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia and Poland.

In an effort to mitigate the negative effects of the flight ban, the government has been working to revive the sector by exploring new markets that could export tourists to Egypt, including Eastern Europe, and encouraging domestic tourism.

Egyptair has recently launched a travel campaign, Your Vacation in Egypt, to encourage Egyptians to support local tourism and take their holidays inside the country.

Launched on 14 July and running until 5 September, the campaign is sponsored by the ministry of civil aviation and aims to boost local tourism and domestic flights.

It offers deals that start from LE990 per person for stays at three-star hotels, LE1,095 for four-star hotels, and LE1,350 for five-star hotels. The deals, inclusive of flights, include hotel stays in Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada and Luxor.

“The campaign has seen a huge response,” said Ahmed al-Gabri, owner of a shop in Sharm El-Sheikh’s Nama Bay.

He said the Red Sea resort had seen Egyptians flocking to it thanks to the affordable deals on offer and the large number of domestic tourists had helped to keep businesses in the town running. “Had it not been for them, I would have closed my shop this summer due to the low numbers since the Russian plane incident,” al-Gabri told the Weekly.

He said that domestic and Arab tourism were helping to mitigate the negative effects of the incident but hoped that the international flight ban would soon be lifted so that foreign tourists could come back to the town.

Egypt’s tourism sector is one of the country’s main foreign currency earners, and it has been struggling after the political and economic turmoil following the 25 January Revolution in 2011. More than 14.7 million tourists visited Egypt in 2010, dropping to 9.8 million in 2011.

Tourism now makes up around 3.5 per cent of the country’s economy, compared with five per cent before the Revolution, according to Central Bank data.

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