CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt has hired global consultancy Control Risks to review security at its airports after the crash of a plane carrying Russian holidaymakers that killed all 224 aboard and damaged the country’s tourism industry.
Egypt said this month it had found no evidence so far of terrorism or other illegal action linked to the October crash, but Russia said in November that the jet was brought down by a bomb.
Islamic State, the militant group that has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility and said it had smuggled a bomb on board hidden in a soft drink can.
The crash in the Sinai Peninsula hit Egypt’s tourism sector hard, with some airlines suspending flights to Sharm al-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort from which the flight departed, pending security assurances.
The security review, announced at a news conference by Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou, Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal and Control Risks regional chief executive Andreas Carleton-Smith, aims to help restore confidence and revive tourism, a key foreign currency earner for cash-strapped Egypt.
“Today is a demonstration of the messages we are sending the whole world that we are taking very bold steps to ensure the welfare, safety, and security of both Egyptians and our guests,” Zaazou later told Reuters in an interview.
He added that London-based Control Risks would begin with assessments of security at Cairo and Sharm al-Sheikh, which receive high numbers of foreign travelers, but would also review security at other Egyptian airports.
The disaster has cost Egypt about 2.2 billion Egyptian pounds ($280.97 million) a month in direct losses and Zaazou told Reuters this month he sees this year’s tourism receipts falling 10 percent on last year as a result.
Egypt earned about $7.2 billion in tourism revenues last year, still a far cry from around $12.5 billion before the 2011 uprising, which ushered in a period of political turmoil that scared away tourists and foreign investors.
Egypt, home of the Giza Pyramids and other Pharaonic wonders and pristine beaches, had been working to restore confidence, and was about to launch a new tourism marketing campaign when the Russian plane crash took place. The campaign will now launch in the second half of January, Zaazou told Reuters.
Kamal said the aviation sector alone contributes to 1.2 percent of gross domestic product.
The hiring of Control Risks was independent of the Russian plane crash and did not mean there are doubts over Egypt’s airport security measures, he said.
Control Risks has operated in the Middle East and North Africa for 15 years and has offices in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Carleton-Smith, regional Control Risks CEO, anticipated the reviews of both Cairo and Sharm al-Sheikh airports taking between two-and-a-half and three months.
Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Mark Heinrich