Britain’s recent decision to lift the ban on direct flights to Egypt’s Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, imposed since late 2015, is seen as a strong push to the Egyptian tourism sector that has been suffering over the past few years over security challenges.
The British authorities suspended flights to Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh after 224 people, mostly Russians, were killed in a Russian plane bombing in October 2015 in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The bombing was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization.
“The British resumption of direct flights to Sharm el-Sheikh is an international testimony to the security of Egypt and its airports,” said Amr Sedki, head of the Egyptian parliament’s tourism and aviation committee.
Sedki explained that the 2015 plane crash raised international demands for further security measures at Egypt’s airports and Egypt dealt with them professionally and with understanding.
“Egypt managed in the past four years to meet the required security standards, and the Egyptian diplomatic efforts greatly contributed to the gradual recovery of the tourism sector,” the Egyptian lawmaker told Xinhua.
He explained that some international media look at Sinai as a restive peninsula because of the presence of some IS loyalists, but they disregard the fact that they hide in limited areas of North Sinai which are too far from South Sinai where Sharm el-Sheikh is.
Tourism is one of the main sources of national income and hard currency for Egypt, besides the revenues of the Suez Canal, the exports and the remittances of Egyptian expatriates.
It brought Egypt about 13 billion U.S. dollars in revenues in 2010 alone, when some 14.7 million tourists visited the country.
After years of recession, the recovering sector brought Egypt about 12.6 billion dollars in the fiscal year 2018/2019, compared to 9.8 billion dollars in the previous fiscal year, according to the Central Bank of Egypt.
“Tourism is evidently recovering in Egypt, particularly in the Red Sea resorts. We once suffered a sharp decline of the occupancy rates in floating hotels, which are mostly full today,” Sedki said.
He told Xinhua that his tourism committee at the parliament is preparing a law for health tourism in Egypt, in order to facilitate medical tourism as well as accessible tourism for disabled visitors.
Earlier in October, Sweden also resumed its direct flights from its capital Stockholm to Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh after more than eight years of suspension over security concerns following the 2011 mass protests that toppled former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
As for Moscow, it resumed direct flights to Cairo in April 2018 but flights to other Egyptian cities, including the popular resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, haven’t been resumed yet.
The issue is expected to be part of the talks between Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during al-Sisi’s current visit to Russia’s Sochi for a two-day Russian-African summit that kicked off on Wednesday.
Hany Abdel-Razek, an Egyptian tour guide, said the “long-awaited” resumption of British flights to Sharm el-Sheikh represents “a strong push for the Egyptian tourism sector.”
According to the British Foreign Office, 900,000 British visitors travelled to Egypt in 2015 before the Russian plane bombing, while the British embassy in Cairo said at least 415,000 British tourists visited Egypt in 2018 despite the travel ban to Sharm el-Sheikh.
“The UK was one of the basic tourist-exporting countries to Egypt, as it used to send about 1 million visitors to Egypt every year. So lifting the flight ban will greatly boost the Egyptian tourism sector,” Abdel-Razek told Xinhua.
The Egyptian tour guide pointed out that Egypt has recently launched professional tourism promotion campaigns worldwide, which has helped in the gradual recovery of the sector.