As visitors stranded after the crash of a Russian airliner stream home from Egypt, the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh is scrambling to keep its lucrative tourism sector alive.
Businesses in Egypt’s tourism jewel famed for pristine beaches and dive sites are intent on wooing back visitors after thousands of Russian and British tourists leave the country following the October 31 crash.
The Metrojet Airbus A-321 full of mainly Russian holidaymakers heading home to Saint Petersburg came down in the Sinai desert 23 minutes after taking off from Sharm.
The jihadist Islamic State group’s branch in the Sinai said it downed the aircraft, and Britain and the United States, as well as international investigators, suspect a bomb exploded on board.
Egyptian officials insist there is no evidence yet of an attack on the plane, and tourism chiefs in the town say it is secure.
“Sharm is safe. There is no problem inside Sharm el-Sheikh,” Givara el-Gafy, owner of the luxurious Gafy resorts and head of the south Sinai tourism chamber, told AFP.
Tens of thousands of foreign tourists, including some 80,000 Russians and 20,000 Britons, were stranded in the resort after flights were cancelled for security reasons.
All 224 people on board the Airbus were killed when the jet crashed.
Amid growing security fears, Russia stopped all flights to Egypt and Britain halted air travel to the resort, while several other countries have warned their nationals not to fly to Sharm el-Sheikh.
‘SHARM IS SAFE’ BLITZ
Millions of tourists visit the popular resort, but on Monday thousands were lining up to leave.
“We need to get these people back. All they want is a good holiday,” said Gafy, adding that a campaign to promote the town was being prepared.
“We are also asking the government to step in and save Sharm el-Sheikh before it’s too late,” he said.
A promotional video titled “Sharm is safe” has already been filmed and circulated among hotel owners and tour operators.
The video shows tourists in hotels, on beaches and yachts as hotel owners and chiefs promote the resort as a safe destination.
“If something happened to the plane, it happened at the airport,” said Mohammed who owns a souvenir shop at Naama Bay, a spot famed for its nightlife, restaurants, cafes and shopping.
“If we don’t do something fast, this place would turn into a cemetery,” he said.
At mid-day, the streets of Naama Bay were empty, with few customers in restaurants, cafes and shops.
Just a few tourists from Russia and Ukraine were hunting for souvenirs, although vendors said more tourists were expected after sunset.
Dozens of police were patrolling the area and throughout the resort.
“There are cameras everywhere, and we have policemen in plain clothes to ensure tourists are safe in Sharm el-Sheikh,” said one officer posted at the entrance to Naama Bay.
PEAK SEASON PRICE CUTS?
Tour operators said foreign airlines were now expected to offer hefty discounts on flights to Sharm el-Sheikh.
“This is bound to happen once Russia and Britain resume flights,” said travel company operator Mohammed Sabbah whose clients were mostly Russian and British.
“Hotel owners are already considering to cut tariffs,” he said, adding that a return flight from Luton to Sharm could soon be available for about “200 British pounds from the current 400”.
However, British tourism officials said not many Britons were expected to visit the Egyptian resort during the peak holiday period in December.
“Even offering rock-bottom prices will not achieve that if there is a feeling that a trip to Sharm might result in death,” Derek Moore, chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, told AFP.
Those Britons who arrived at the resort before London halted flights there were seen to be making the most of their holidays.
“We feel safe in Sharm. The situation has not made us not want to come back,” said Laura Hodgson as she prepared to go for a swim.
“We don’t feel unsafe,” she said, adding that she and her husband were originally scheduled to return home on Tuesday.
“But now our stay could be extended by a few days” as passengers due to fly out before them were still waiting to leave.