Australia, Italy, Belgium caution nationals from visiting Egypt's Sinai

Dalia Farouk and Ahram Online, Thursday 16 Aug 2012

European travel warnings likely hurt Egypt's tourism sector, still struggling to get back on its feet since last year's Tahrir Square uprising

A bikini-clad tourist reads a book at the beach of the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh (Photo: AFP)

The Australian, Italian and Belgian governments have warned their nationals against travelling to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in the aftermath of the 5 August attack near Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip in which 16 Egyptian border guards were killed.

Sami Mahmoud, head of the Egyptian Tourism Authority (ETA), told Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website on Wednesday that he had learned from the ETA's international affiliates that numerous tourism agencies had cancelled planned trips to Egypt due to security concerns.

Mahmoud added, however, that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's recent personnel reshuffles in Egypt's security and military apparatuses would have a "positive impact" on tourism, as the changes would likely lead to an improvement of Egypt's domestic security situation.

Last week, newly-appointed Tourism Minister Hisham Zazou denied that last week's attack had had any negative effect on local tourism.

Official statistics released on Sunday showed that the number of tourist arrivals to Egypt reached 5.08 million in the first half of this year, up 23 per cent on the first half of last year.

Elhamy El-Zayat, for his part, head of the Egyptian Federation of Tourism, warned at a press conference last week of more possible shocks to the sector, noting that the Sinai attack had been preceded by two bloody clashes in greater Cairo.

On 2 August, clashes erupted outside the upscale Nile City Towers in downtown Cairo, in which at least one person was killed. Also earlier this month, a personal quarrel between a Christian and a Muslim in the village of Dahshur, Giza led to wider clashes and one death.

According to El-Zayat, total losses to Egypt's tourism sector in 2011 are estimated at LE5 billion (some $833.3 million), while one third of those working in the industry have recently been laid off.

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