EGYPT COUNTS ON RESUMPTION OF RUSSIAN FLIGHTS, TO REVIVE AILING TOURISM

CAIRO, Egypt, 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, 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 Feb 1, 2018.

Moscow decided to halt flights with Egypt, after an Airbus A321 plane crashed, over the Sinai Peninsula, in late Oct, 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 Daesh.

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 said.

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.

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 billion of which will be loaned by Russia to be paid in a 22-year period, starting from 2029, at an annual interest rate of 3%, while Egypt has to provide the other four 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 said.

Employing about four 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 three 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’s decision, the number is expected to increase to two million in 2018, and greatly raise the occupancy rate of hotels in Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada resorts,” said the Egyptian tourism expert.

Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK