In the Wake of Air Disaster, Egypt Tourism Industry ‘Shaking’

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“Many of the tourists are privileged to see the historic Pyramids and the Red Sea, and many other artifacts, because more than 14.7 million tourists visited the country in 2010, dropping to 9.8 million following the January 2011 Revolution,” key officials in government have recalled.

“Many Egyptians, including any of us, either in the government or not, depend largely on our country’s tourism industry to earn our living,” Hazem Fahmy, head of Egyptian Agency of Partnership for Development (EAPD), told the over 42 journalists, who were in the country for training during a formal chat. The month long media training was held under the theme, “Future of Media in Africa.”

According to Dr. Fahmy, who is also Egypt’s Ambassador-at-large, “Tourism Industry serves as the country’s foreign [exchange] earning investment. In spite of the many challenges the industry now faces, Egyptians are still confident of luring back millions of foreign visitors and putting a smile on their faces, according to the new tourism Minister, despite heavy first quarter losses and setbacks including a bomb that brought down a Russian passenger plane and the missing of our airplane on Thursday, May 18, among so many security threats.”

Egypt new Tourism Minister, Yehia Rashed told reporters that the ancient land of the pyramids and Red Sea resorts is determined to secure a strong recovery even though the number of foreign tourists has fallen and continued to fall by 40 percent in the first quarter of 2016, when compared with the same period last year.

Egypt, as the most populous Arab nation, remains optimistic to attract at least 12 million tourists by the end of 2017 with a six-point plan.

“I am very hopeful, optimistic about the future of tourism into Egypt,” Rashed told Reuters in an interview recently. “I want to get that smile that you are joyfully putting into the faces of everybody. We want to stay positive.”

Egypt tourism revenue has taken a heavy hit since a Russian plane crashed in the Sinai last October, killing all 224 people on board in what President Abdel Fattah El Sisi called an act of terror. Rashed said it planted a bomb onboard.

Rashed said Egypt has improved airport security since the crash. “These people have worked day and night,” he said. “Egypt is safe.”

Another sad story that dampened the country’s image was the torture and murder of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, whose body was dumped on the side of a road in February; an act, Egyptians recalled, that has also hurt their country’s image.

Human rights groups say torture marks on Regeni’s lifeless body fit a pattern that suggested Egyptian security services had killed him, an allegation the government strongly denied.

Asked if Egypt would take action if it was determined that a policeman had killed Regeni, as widely suspected among human rights groups, Rashed told Reuters “justice is justice.”

“We care big time about human rights. The best way, actually, is to create positive vibes in the mind of people that Egypt is safe and it is worth visiting,” he added.

The Regeni case has brought allegations of widespread police brutality in Egypt under sharper focus, but Egyptians be they in public or private sectors are confident of the country’s tourism industry.

Egypt’s tourism industry, a cornerstone of the economy and critical source of hard currency, has been struggling to rebound after the political and economic upheaval triggered by the January 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

“More than 14.7 million tourists visited Egypt in 2010, dropping to 9.8 million in 2011,” a professor at an American University in Cairo told visiting journalists during one of his lecture series.

“The first quarter is down about 40 percent compared to last year. However, there is a positive with every negative. The Gulf business is up about 45 percent from last year,” one official said while addressing a gathering of media personnel in Cairo recently.

Egyptian tourism, one official confirmed, has survived hard times in the past.

In 1997, militants killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians at a temple in Luxor, on the Nile. Also, on Sunday, May 8, eight police officers were ambushed while on patrol in the south of the capital, Cairo. Four persons from the Islamic State (IS) or the Jihadists were suspected of carrying out the killing of the police.
The case, among a series of other reported security-related threats, is being reported by the Egyptian dailies, including the country’s Daily Mail, which reported an ongoing investigation into most of the threats on the country.

With all those reports, Egyptians seemed optimistic. According to a survey, the new six-point plan to boost tourism would include increasing the presence of national carrier EgyptAir abroad, working with low-cost airlines and the improvement of services, etc.

Nonetheless, in the wake of the public assurance, there came the sad news on Thursday, May 19, of the missing in mid air, about 25 minutes to landing, of the country’s MS804 over the Mediterranean Ocean, resulting in the deaths of all 66 passengers onboard, thereby plunging the hope to revamp the country’s tourism industry further despair.

With this state of uncertainty, Egyptians are resolved to keep the industry functioning. This is evident in the country by the presence of visitors, among them European tourists, arriving in the country; with some heading to the Red Sea Hurghada City.

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