The airport of the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh this week received the first two charter flights from the UK after close to a five-year ban. The charter flights of TUI, one of Europe’s largest travel companies, flew from Gatwick and Manchester airports in the UK.
Flights between Britain and Sharm El-Sheikh were halted in November 2015 following the bombing of a Russian airliner after take-off from Sharm El-Sheikh airport, killing all 224 people on board. The UK allowed flights to other Egyptian airports later but never back to Sharm El-Sheikh.
Kamel Abu Ali, head of the hotel operator Pickalbatros, expects the flow of British tourists to increase in the next summer season. In 2010, 1.5 million British tourists visited Egypt, making them the second largest of Egypt’s tourists after the Russians. In the first nine months of 2015, the UK came in third among countries exporting tourists to Egypt.
On 29 February, the flag carrier EgyptAir will fly its first flight to the UK following the lifting of the ban. Media reports quoted Ministry of Civil Aviation officials as saying that the increase in flights in the summer would be determined according to demand and in the light of the increase in British holidaymakers to Egypt following the UK’s lifting of the flight ban to Sharm El-Sheikh.
Former chairman of the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Tourism Elhami Al-Zayyat believes Egypt and the UK will operate several weekly flights to and from Sharm El-Sheikh. He expects more revenue for Egypt from tourism since British tourists tend to spend up to a week in their destination of choice.
Al-Zayyat said hotel room prices were forecast to rise, particularly after the re-evaluation that Egyptian tourist facilities are expected to undergo.
A Colliers International report has predicted that hotel room revenues in Cairo, Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada, and Alexandria will increase in 2020 on an annual basis, expecting a two per cent increase in revenues in hotels in Cairo, 13 per cent in Sharm El-Sheikh, 10 per cent in Hurghada, and nine per cent in Alexandria.
Hotel occupancy is expected to reach 80 per cent in Cairo, 62 per cent in Sharm El-Sheikh, 69 per cent in Hurghada, and 82 per cent in Alexandria, according to the report.
TUI is also scheduled to increase its flights from Gatwick, Edinburgh, and Birmingham airports to Sharm El-Sheikh to five weekly flights until May. It said it would also organise flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow airports in Scotland to Sharm El-Sheikh starting in November.
EasyJet has announced the return of its flights twice a week from Manchester to Sharm El-Sheikh starting in June and two weekly flights from London’s Gatwick in September.
Egypt’s tourism market is currently witnessing a boom thanks in part to the increased stability in the country that has led the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to raise its expectations about Egypt’s revenues from tourism to $16.7 billion in 2019-20, up from $14.2 billion in earlier forecasts.
According to the latest Global Competitiveness Report, Egypt achieved the fourth-highest growth rate in travel and tourism performance in the report’s Competitiveness Index and the highest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
EgyptAir operated its first flight between Sharm El-Sheikh and Luxor in Upper Egypt on 20 February after a few years’ hiatus. For the time being operated once a week, the flight between the two destinations is part of a plan put up by the tourism and civil aviation ministries to connect the Red Sea with Upper Egypt’s antiquities and to allow travellers to combine beach and cultural activities in one trip.
The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities gave the passengers of the flight a free tour of the queen Nefertari tomb on Luxor’s west bank, a tour normally priced at LE1,400.
Abu Ali said connecting Egypt’s tourist cities with each other would reflect positively on the country, increase its revenues, and give holidaymakers the opportunity to arrange their itineraries in a way that allows them to visit several places during one trip.
Al-Zayyat concurred, adding that now that the Egyptian market was regaining its British tourists, tour agents would use the occasion to tailor extended itineraries that include both Luxor and Sharm El-Sheikh.
Abu Ali said that Sharm El-Sheikh’s hotel occupancy rates were faring better and he expected further improvements after the state decided to facilitate procedures for indebted investors that will allow them to re-operate closed tourist facilities and increase the readiness of tourist cities to receive vacationers.
Tourism experts differ on the effect of the current spread of the coronavirus on tourism in Egypt. Karim Mohsen, a member of the board of the Chamber of Tourism Companies, expressed his fears that the epidemic could negatively affect the flow of tourists to Egypt, especially after Chinese travellers had stopped coming to the country.
He said that some Italian groups had cancelled their trips to Egypt out of fears of contracting the virus.
Nonetheless, Al-Zayyat said that the UK’s stoppage of its flights to China could mean more traffic to Egypt. He expected that UK planes would be rerouted to Egypt, especially with the rising demand for flights to Sharm El-Sheikh, one of the key destinations of British tourists.
In November 2019, Ahmed Youssef, president of the Tourism Development Authority, held meetings with UK companies such as EasyJet Holidays, EasyJet Airlines, Sun Express, Kuoni and Love Holidays during the World Travel Market in London.
The companies had expressed their desire to increase their business in Egypt, he said, noting that British tourists had been increasingly demanding the arrangement of itineraries to Egypt and expecting that more British tourists will fly to Egypt next winter.
Egypt hopes Russia will now follow in the footsteps of the UK and resume its flights to Sharm El-Sheikh. Russia is a major source of tourists to Egypt, and it resumed direct flights to Cairo in 2018 after security inspections of airports by Russian experts.
However, it has yet to resume flights to Sharm El-Sheikh.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: The British are back