Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada, Egypt’s famous Red Sea resorts, are preparing for the return of direct flights from Russia next week after a six-year hiatus since the 2015 Russian plane crash in Sinai.
Russian flights between Moscow and the two coastal cities will resume starting from 9 August after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the lifting of a Russian flight ban on the Egyptian Red Sea resorts.
Direct flights to Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada will now be operated after the Russian airline Rossiya obtained the necessary permits to carry out five flights per week on each route.
The Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) announced that it had approved landing licences for the Russian airline to fly to the Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada airports from 9 August to 20 October after the Russian decision to resume the flights.
The Russian flights are to land at the airports on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Preventive measures stipulated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to combat the Covid-19 pandemic will be in place.
Russian citizens coming to Egyptian resorts who have received two doses of the Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19 will be allowed to enter Egypt without a PCR test before their trip, the ECAA said.
Those who have not received the vaccine are required to present a negative PCR test done 72 hours before their trip or take a PCR test upon arrival.
The Egyptian health authorities have finished vaccinating workers in the tourism sector and at airports. Egyptian airports have obtained a certificate of health accreditation for safe travel from the International Airports Council.
An inter-agency delegation from Russia visited Egypt last week and completed an evaluation of the epidemiological situation, preventive measures at hotels, and capabilities at labs and medical facilities.
The Russian Anti-Coronavirus Crisis Office said in a statement that future decisions about the number of flights to Egypt would be based on the results of the Russian delegation’s visit last week, which included officials from the tourism and health sectors.
“The announcement of the resumption of Russian flights to Egyptian resorts is a good sign for the sector to recover quickly,” said Hisham Al-Shaer, a member of the Chamber of Hotel Establishments.
Russian tourism has long been important for Egypt, he added, with more than three million Russian tourists visiting Egypt in 2014 before the 2015 plane crash and representing about one third of the total number of tourists in Egypt that year.
Flights between the two countries were suspended following the plane crash in late 2015 that killed all 224 people on board, most of them Russian tourists.
Flights between Russia and Egypt were resumed in April 2018, while direct flights to Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada remained suspended until the decision to resume them starting on 9 August.
In a report issued in April 2021, the US investment bank Goldman Sachs said that the resumption of Russian direct flights to the Red Sea resorts represented a significant push towards the reflation of the country’s tourism sector, with revenues of about US$3 billion expected as a result.
Al-Shaer said that the announcement of the return of Russian tourists to Egypt confirmed confidence in Egyptian tourist destinations, especially after the precautionary measures taken by the Egyptian government to ensure the safety of visitors and residents during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Egypt’s hotels are ready to host the Russian tourists, but occupation rates and reservation figures will only be accurate after they start to visit the resorts over the next few weeks,” he added.
Nasr Al-Fouli, a tourism expert, believes that the return of Russian tourism to Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh is a breakthrough for the industry as the two coastal cities are considered to be top destinations by many Russians who used to represent the majority of visitors to both.
Al-Fouli said that Russian tourists are very important to the Red Sea resorts as they visit throughout the year and not only in the winter season.
The return of the Russian flights will prompt more countries to resume direct flights to Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada, he added.
He said that with further control of the coronavirus pandemic, higher vaccination rates, and better promotion for tourism in Egypt, the sector might witness a boom in 2022.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, only 3.5 million tourists visited Egypt in 2020, most of them in the first quarter of the year, a far cry from the around 13 million in 2019. Tourism revenues came in at $4 billion in 2020, compared to $12.6 billion in 2019.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly