Egypt seeks new markets, boosts security as tourism drops

Eyes Chinese, German, Japanese, Ukrainian tourists to boost falling numbers

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Egypt hopes to encourage tourists from new markets like China, Japan and Ukraine, a year after Russia and Britain suspended flights to the land of the Pyramids, the country's tourism minister said.

Egypt’s tourism industry, a crucial source of hard currency, has struggled to rebound since a mass uprising in 2011. Conditions worsened after the suspected bombing of a Russian plane carrying 224 people from a Red Sea resort in October 2015.

The attack prompted Russia to halt all flights to Egypt and Britain to suspend flights to Sharm al-Sheikh, a resort on the Red Sea. The impact was clear. Egypt's tourism receipts halved in the 2015-16 fiscal year to $3.77 billion.

Since then, Egypt has made significant efforts to improve airport security and persuade the world it is safe, said Yehia Rashed, the country’s tourism minister. It is also looking to attract tourists from countries that until now have not provided many visitors.

“We are trying to build up on some of the market sources that have potential ... The German market, Ukrainian, Chinese, Japanese ... ,” Rashed said at the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit. “We have to go around and tell people, come and see Egypt with your own eyes ... we have a lot to offer.”

Uphill battle

Rashed faces an uphill battle. An EgyptAir plane crashed en route from Paris to Cairo in May, killing 66 people. The cause remains unknown. In March, an EgyptAir plane was hijacked by a man wearing a fake suicide belt. No one was hurt.

In addition, Egyptian warplanes fired on a group of picnicking tourists last year, thinking they were militants. Eight Mexicans and four Egyptians were killed.

The ban on flights by Britain and Russia to Sharm al-Sheikh has delayed recovery.

“We respect every country's decision,” Rashed said. “They have to be comfortable in coming, and we will work on sending the message that Egypt is safe.

“Security at the airport has been stepped up very professionally, and there are new equipment everywhere.”

Rashed declined to give projections on the number of tourists expected to arrive next year.

“Terrorism is hitting tourism hard everywhere in the world, not just Egypt,” he said. “We shouldn't be scared. We should... show them we have courage and confidence to move around.”

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