Mixed views over plane crash’s impact on Egyptian tourism

LONDON // Egypt’s tourism industry is expected to continue growing apace despite safety fears raised by Saturday’s deadly airline crash.

Billions of dollars of investment in hotels and other tourism infrastructure is expected to flow from the Arabian Gulf as Egypt looks to double its visitor numbers by 2020, a senior diplomat told The National on the sidelines of the World Travel Market.

But analysts sounded a note of scepticism over claims tourism will not be affected, citing the impact on consumer sentiment following the crash of the Russian plane, and incidents such as the killing in September of eight Mexican tourists mistaken for terrorists by the Egyptian army.

Egypt is embarking on an ambitious plan to attract 20 million tourists annually by 2020, roughly double the current number, and to triple its international receipts to US$30 billion.

Taleb Rifai, the secretary-general of the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization, which is helping Egypt draft its tourism strategy, told the World Travel Market that those targets are still attainable.

The UN official said he expects the 8.1 per cent growth in tourist arrivals to Egypt from January to September to continue during the rest of 2015, despite the plane crash.

“The capacity for growth and resilience in Egypt is remarkable,” he said. “Egypt has been tested so many times in its life and it’s always [come out] on top.”

The cause of the deadly crash of the Airbus A321-200 over the Sinai Peninsula, which killed all 224 people on board, has not been officially confirmed. Officials in Egypt and Russia dispute claims that the jet was downed by ISIL militants.

Mr Rifai said it was too early to draw conclusions about the cause. “It’s too soon to make any judgment or to measure any impact at this point in time,” he said. “We haven’t seen any setback so far… I’m ready to take my family to Egypt tomorrow.”

Nasser Kamel, the Egyptian ambassador to the UK, said the country is still pursuing its tourism ambitions, and that he expects “billions” of dollars of investment from the Gulf region. He said Egypt’s current tourism capacity of 16 million to 17 million needs to be raised to meet its target.

“The Gulf is playing a very important role, because the Egyptian tourist sector has been a profitable one,” he said. “Those countries are investing in the infrastructure – the hotel rooms. Because for you to be able to absorb 20 million tourists you need more capacity.”

He said Egyptian tourist destinations are “highly secure”, pointing to the widespread CCTV in use across the popular resort of Sharm El Sheikh.

“Additional measures – if needed – will definitely be applied. But for the time being we are applying the highest international standards when it comes to airport safety and to destination safety, including the hotels in those areas,” he said.

But Caroline Bremner, head of travel and tourism research at Euromonitor International, based in the UK, said there is likely to be a negative impact on tourism after the air crash.

“These incidents… send out a message to potential holidaymakers who may be choosing between Egypt and other destinations,” she said. “Short term, there could be an impact, as there usually is a reaction.”

Ms Bremner said that safety will be a key factor if Egypt’s target to double tourist numbers is to be a success.

“It’s always worth having good targets. But it requires investment,” she said. “You need the routes, and you need also to ensure safety and security in a country. And these are obviously big areas for the Egyptian government to look at.”


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