Sunday, 19 February 2017

EGYPT: Tourism Signals Recovery

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

"There is an increase in the number of tourists. This situation was much better in January than in previous years," tourism ministry 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," said Egyptian Federation of Tourism chief Karim Mohsen.

"There is an improvement, especially in cultural tourism in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan," key historical sites, he said.

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

Once a key foreign currency earner, the tourism sector crashed in 2011 after a popular uprising overthrew veteran strongman 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.

But in October that year, Islamic State group jihadists, 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 on board 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.