The Fate of Egypt Air and Tourism

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When the revolution started in Egypt to oust the then President Hosni Mubarak, the Western world was jubilant; it was seen as a new go at democracy in a country that has been under a seemingly benevolent dictator.

The people revolted; the youths took over the freedom square located few meters to the national museum in Cairo, a huge revenue earner to Egypt, which generated about 95 per cent of its revenues from tourism.

When this writer visited Egypt a year after the revolution, the stigma of destruction by young protesters was still apparent. The highly priced Cairo museum was pillaged and invaluable artifacts carted away. There were efforts by the concerned agencies to get back the missing priced artifacts.

The protests, which started in 2011 lasted till 2013 killing tourism in the North African country, known as the cradle of civilisation.

THISDAY learnt that during the revolution in 2011, the number of visitors to that country plummeted by over 37 per cent that year, falling from 14 million in 2010 to just nine million by end of 2011. This also affected businesses that directly and indirectly were dependent on tourism, from hotel accommodation to car rentals and other sundry services that attended to the needs of foreigners who travel to Egypt to see the Pyramids and the tombs of the Pharaohs.

Reports said that in 2013, Egypt ranked 85th as the world’s best country in terms of tourism and travelling, falling 10 places from its ranking of 75 in 2011.

But the tragedy that drove the nail to the coffin on tourism in Egypt was the explosion of Russian airliner after it took off from the Sharm al-Sheik airport. Egypt, especially Sharm al-Sheik had become idyllic tourist haven for Russians before that tragedy, which killed 224 souls on board.

It became very painful, when it was revealed that it was an insider job that facilitated the movement of the bomb that pulverised the aircraft into its hall and seconds into flight disintegrated it into smithereens.

A similar but not very tragic incident happened on Tuesday when a university professor hijacked Egypt Air airline that was flying from Alexandria to Cairo and diverted it to Cyprus.

Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement that 81 people, including 21 foreigners and 15 crew, had been onboard the flight when it took off.

Conflicting theories emerged about the hijacker’s motives, with Cypriot officials saying early the incident did not appear related to terrorism but the Cypriot state broadcaster saying he had demanded the release of women prisoners in Egypt.

After the aircraft landed at Larnaca airport, negotiations began and everyone onboard was freed except three passengers and four crew, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fethy said.

Soon after his comments, Cypriot television footage showed several people leaving the plane via the stairs and another man climbing out of the cockpit window and running off.

This incident has further depleted the goodwill of Egypt as a tourist destination.

According to Reuters, tourism in Sharm al-Sheikh was picking up again after years of political turmoil, with so many Russians enjoying the sun and fun that local beach aerobics instructors used the visitors’ own language rather than Arabic or English.

“Life was at last starting to look good for residents of the Red Sea resort, but that was before an airliner taking Russian tourists home broke up over the Sinai Peninsula, where Islamic State militants suspected of planting a bomb on the plane are waging an insurgency.

Now the future looks grim for thousands of Egyptians, from taxi drivers to diving instructors, who flocked to Sharm al-Sheikh and other cities in Egypt to find jobs.

“I have been working in Sharm for three years but this is the first time I have ever seen it so empty,” said Ahmed Rabie. He spoke outside the cafe he runs in Naama Bay, at the resort’s heart. Chairs were stacked on tables and not a single person was sitting inside.

Normally, “all these cafes and restaurants would be full.”
Rabie pays EGP30,000 Egyptian pounds $3,700) a month to rent the space, in addition to operational costs,” Reuters quoted an Egyptian resident of Sharm al-Sheik.

According to Egypt Daily News, the hijack on Tuesday is a blow to tourism, which was trying to resurrect after the Sharm al-Sheik tragedy.

“The hijacked EgyptAir flight on Tuesday comes shortly after a series of security attacks that have substantially affected the tourism industry in Egypt, causing tourism revenues to sharply decline to $6bn in 2015.

This compares to the $12.5bn in revenues in 2010, prior to the 25 January Revolution.
An EgyptAir flight that departed from Borg El-Arab airport near Alexandria was hijacked Tuesday morning and forced to land in Larnaca airport in Cyprus,” Daily News reported.

The lesson for Nigeria is that while Nigeria hardly records foreign visitors for sightseeing and the unveiling of history, it enjoys business tourism. But since the gloomy economy and the devastating effects of the activities of the local terror organisation, Boko Haram, the not-so much cheering figures of foreign visitors are also depleting. So the key words are peace, safety and security, the essential ingredients for the influx of foreigners. These are what Egypt has lost.