CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s tourism revenues in 2015 will be at least 10 percent below last year’s after a Russian plane crash prompted Moscow and London to suspend flights, and authorities are now working to restore confidence, the tourism minister said on Tuesday.
Hit by political and economic upheaval since the 2011 uprising ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, Egypt’s tourism sector had been set to grow this year.
A global advertising campaign aimed at reviving the industry was due to be launched on Oct. 31, the day the airliner carrying holidaymakers from the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh crashed, killing all 224 people abroad.
The disaster prompted Russia and Britain, who have both said the crash was caused by a bomb, to suspend some flights pending reassurances over airport security. The Islamic State militant group said it bombed the plane.
Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the Egypt Mega Projects conference, Hisham Zaazou said Egypt was working to plug any gaps in security and persuade tourists to return to its ancient sites, desert treks and beaches.
The plane crash has already resulted in 2.2 billion Egyptian pounds in direct losses though indirect costs would be larger and more difficult to calculate.
“The impact is minimal now but if it extends longer the impact will be much more,” Zaazou said.
“Hopefully, things will be better in the coming year but ... people are not behind doors and once things are OK they open the door and will keep rushing in. It will take some few months later after the resumption of flights.”
Zaazou declined to say when flights were expected to resume or to give revenue projections for next year, saying the entire region was suffering from an image problem.
“This time I tell you it is different. I can’t give you a date ... This time it is not Egypt’s problem ... Egypt is also caught between what is happening in Syria and Lebanon, in Libya and down south sometimes in Sudan, even Paris now,” said Zaazou.
Egypt earned about $7.2 billion in tourism revenues last year, still a far cry from around $12.5 billion before 2011.
The impact of the uprising on Egypt’s foreign currency reserves has been particularly dramatic as tourists and foreign investors -- key generators of foreign exchange -- fled.
Foreign currency reserves have more than halved from about $36 billion before 2011 to about $16.423 billion in November.
Zaazou said he was working closely with Britain and Russia to address security concerns at airports catering to tourists.
“They want to make sure there is a checklist, a manual for every airport ... what they call screening, second screening. They are reviewing all that process,” he said. “It is there but they want to see if there are additional methods, additional equipment that we can get ... and we are doing that.”
Egyptian tourism has survived big setbacks in the past.
In 1997 Islamic militants killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians at a temple in Luxor, on the Nile.
Last year, the bombing of a tourist bus in Sinai killed two South Koreans and an Egyptian, reviving memories of an Islamist uprising in the 1990s that often targeted tourists.
In September, Egyptian forces mistakenly bombed a convoy of Mexican tourists in the western desert while pursuing militants. Eight Mexicans and four Egyptians were killed.
Egypt had been pinning its tourism strategy on the Red Sea resorts, which until the plane crash had managed to attract visitors despite the uncertainty.
“I act as if there’s a problem. I act because the world sees things from a specific angle. We say perception is reality so I deal with this perception,” Zaazou said.
“We have had problems since 30 years but the arrow of tourism has always pointed upwards ... This proves the industry is resilient.”
Editing by Andrew Heavens