Egypt counts on resumption of Russian flights to revive ailing tourism

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The Egyptian tourism sector, one of the country’s main sources of national income and foreign currency reserves, is expected to revive after the resumption of Russian flights to the North African Arab state after more than two years of suspension over security concerns, said Egyptian tourism officials and experts.

On Friday, Egypt and Russia signed in Moscow an agreement to resume direct flights between the two countries starting from February 1, 2018.

Moscow decided to halt flights with Egypt after an Airbus A321 plane crashed over the Sinai Peninsula in late October 2015, en route from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort city to Russia’s St. Petersburg, killing all 224 people on board mostly Russians. The crash was claimed by a Sinai-based terrorist group affiliated with the regional Islamic State (IS).

The Russian decision was a blow to Egypt’s tourism industry, which has already been suffering since 2011 due to political turmoil following the ouster of two heads of state.

“The Russian flight resumption will have a very positive impact on tourism in Egypt as it will flourish the industry and encourage a lot of tourists who stopped visiting Egypt to come back to the country,” said Walid al-Battouty, adviser to the Egyptian tourism minister.

“About 2.8 million Russian tourists used to visit Egypt before the crisis and we hope to restore this number of visitors and even double it in the near future,” Battouty told Xinhua.

A few months after the Russian plane crash, tourism in Egypt faced further challenges after the mysterious death of an Italian student in Cairo in early February 2016 and later the tragic fall of an EgyptAir flight in May 2016 that killed all 66 people on board, including 15 French.

Egyptian tourism officials and those working in the field pin hope on the return of Russian tourists as a springboard for future revival of the tourism sector in the most populous Arab country.

The resumption of Russian flights will start with Cairo international airport as a destination and will gradually expand to the airports of the Red Sea resort cities of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada.

“I expect the resumption of Russian direct flights to Egyptian resorts in April 2018, or even before that,” Battouty said, adding that resuming flights between Moscow and Cairo is just the beginning.

The Russian-Egyptian flight resumption came a few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi last week in Cairo, where they witnessed the signing of an agreement to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant.

To be built by Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation Roseatom by 2022, the four-reactor nuclear power station will cost 29 billion U.S. dollars, 25 billon of which will be loaned by Russia to Egypt to be paid in a 22-year period starting from 2029 at an annual interest rate of 3 percent, while Egypt has to provide the other 4 billion.

Sami Mahmoud, a tourism expert and former chief of Egypt’s Tourism Promotion Authority, ruled out the interrelation between the power plant agreement and the flight resumption between Egypt and Russia.

“There is no relation between the two agreements, as Russia’s flight suspension was a political decision made after the plane crash and the resumption decision was made after the Russian authorities made sure that the security conditions at Egyptian airports went well,” Mahmoud told Xinhua.

Employing about 4 million people, the tourism sector brought Egypt around 13 billion U.S. dollars in 2010 as over 14.7 million tourists visited the country, including about 3 million Russians. The numbers greatly declined after the Russian plane crash in 2015.

“Only some 90,000 Russian tourists came to Egypt in 2017, but after the flight resumption decision the number is expected to increase to 2 million in 2018 and greatly raise the occupancy rate of hotels in Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada resorts,” said the Egyptian tourism expert.

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