Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - Page 14 News List

Tourism shows signs of recovery in Egypt after attacks, tumultuous years

AFP, CAIRO

An instructor teaches tourists how to dive on Feb. 10 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Photo: AFP

Tourists are slowly returning to Egypt, easing pressure on a key sector battered by years of turmoil and the 2015 bombing of an aircraft carrying Russian holidaymakers.

“There is an increase in the number of tourists. This situation was much better in January than in previous years,” Egyptian Ministry of Tourism spokeswoman Omaima al-Husseini said.

Visitors from China, Japan and Ukraine account for a large part of the growth.

China’s top public travel agency, China International Travel Service, reported a 58 percent increase in tourists flying to Egypt compared with 2015.

“There are more bookings between October 2016 and January 2017 than last year,” Egyptian Federation of Tourism president Karim Mohsen said. “There is an improvement, especially in cultural tourism in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan.”

The uptick is a sign of hope for a country also reeling from the shock of an economic reform program that has triggered massive inflation.

Once a key foreign-currency earner, the tourism sector crashed in 2011 after a popular uprising overthrew former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, ushering in years of sporadic unrest.

Recoveries in the sector since then have been set back by new crises.

In June 2015, a massacre of tourists at a Luxor temple was narrowly averted when assailants armed with assault rifles and explosives bungled the attack and were intercepted by police.

However, in October that year, Islamic State group militants, who are waging an insurgency in the eastern Sinai Peninsula, struck again. They bombed a Russian airliner carrying holidaymakers home from the popular Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

All 224 people aboard were killed.

Russia suspended flights to Egypt and Britain cut air links with Sharm el-Sheikh.

Visitor numbers plunged from 9.3 million in 2015 to 5.3 million the following year, Husseini said.

However, Egyptian tourism industry officials have cautiously welcomed what they say is a noticeable improvement since October last year.

In December last year, 551,600 tourists visited Egypt compared with 440,000 the year before, according to the government’s statistics agency.

“Activity has picked up a bit in the winter of 2016 to 2017,” said Tamer al-Shaer, vice president of the Blue Sky travel agency.

That included a 30 percent increase in Ukrainian tourists and a 60 percent increase in visitors from China, with daily flights to Aswan, a southern city rich in ancient sites, he said.

Japan’s HIS travel agency said the number of tourists heading to Egypt “multiplied by four to five times” last year.

Since charter flights from Japan to Egypt resumed in April last year, they have been on average 80 percent full, a spokesman for the Japan Association of Travel agents said.

Egypt hosted a record 14.7 million foreign tourists in 2010, a year before Mubarak’s overthrow and the ensuing economic nosedive.

Restoring even two thirds of that number is a key government goal, but it hinges on Russia and Britain resuming flights, Husseini said.

“There are ongoing negotiations ... we hope the issue will be resolved as soon as possible,” she said.

More than 60 percent of tourists arriving in Sharm el-Sheikh by plane used to come from Britain or Russia.

“So long as the Russians do not come back, there will be paralysis,” Mohsen said. “Russians and Britons are the backbone of Sharm el-Sheikh.”

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