Ukraine war hits tourism

Safeya Mounir , Tuesday 1 Mar 2022

The Ukraine-Russia conflict has dealt Egypt’s tourism sector another heavy blow, reports Safeya Mounir

Ukraine war hits tourism
Ukraine war hits tourism

Thousands of Ukrainian tourists have been stranded in Egyptian resorts as a result of the war in Ukraine, as they are unable to fly home because of the closure of their country’s airspace, the chairman of Egypt’s Tourism Development Authority said this week, putting the number of people concerned at around 22,000.

Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and antiquities has requested the hotels in which the stranded tourists are staying to offer their guests continuing services at the same rates they originally booked at.

But the stranded Ukrainian tourists are just one side of the story, as Egypt’s tourism sector seems to be facing another Russia-related crisis.

Many Egyptian hotels and tour agencies are owed money by Russian and Ukrainian tour agencies and are having difficulty receiving their dues. The number of Russian and Ukrainian tourists visiting Egypt, once at the top of the list of the country’s foreign visitors, is also likely to shrink indefinitely.

Tarek Shalabi, head of the Investors Association in Marsa Alam, said there were currently 1,800 to 1,900 Ukrainian tourists in Marsa Alam, but that many Russian and Ukrainian tour agencies have not paid Egypt’s hotels and were not likely to in the near future.

Foreign tour agencies usually make final payments to hotels sometime after the return of tourists to their countries. Down payments vary by contract and the size of the business conducted between the hotel and the agency.

Some hotels have decided to help the stranded tourists. In response to the government’s request to host Ukrainian tourists whose stay has ended, the Hyatt Sharm Hotel prepared 10 fully furnished chalets to receive stranded families.

The Cleopatra Hotels Group in Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada announced that it was extending the stay of its Ukrainian guests until the completion of procedures between the Ukrainian Embassy in Cairo and the Egyptian authorities to keep the tourists safe.

It said in a statement that it appreciates the fact that the Ukrainian tourists had chosen Egypt as a destination during the period when Russian flights to Egypt were banned.

It is not only hotels at tourist destinations that are owed money. So are the Egyptian authorities through services offered to Ukrainian airlines, including landing fees.

Tamer Al-Shaer, a member of the Chamber of Tourism Establishments and manager of the Blue Sky Tour Agency who does business with Russia and Ukraine, said there needed to be a solution since if not Egyptian hotels would face difficulties in collecting money owed by Russian and Ukrainian tour agencies, especially with the halt of the SWIFT system to Russian banks.

Many Ukrainian tourists have cancelled their trips, as have half of the Russian tourists expected to arrive shortly. More Russians may cancel their trips if the situation gets worse, Al-Shaer said.

He said the war in Ukraine would likely negatively affect other markets exporting tourists to Egypt, including Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Yugoslavia, and Macedonia.

The Russian and Ukrainian markets are among the largest markets for tourism to Egypt. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Ukraine has occupied first place, while Russian tourism has still been disrupted. Russian tourists began to return to Egyptian resorts last October.

In 2019, Ukraine had the second-largest number of tourists visiting Egypt at 1.6 million, a 32 per cent increase on the year before.

The Ukrainian Embassy in Cairo said that more than 727,000 Ukrainian tourists had visited Egypt in 2020, making up 21 per cent of the total number of foreign tourists visiting Egypt that year.

According to the Ukrainian State Tourism Agency, 1.46 million Ukrainians visited Egypt last year.

Ahmed Hamdi, manager of New Star Aviation, an agent for six Russian airlines including the state-owned Air Russia, Royal, Yamal, and Siberia S7, said that only six flights from Russia had landed last Sunday in Hurghada (two flights) and Sharm El-Sheikh (four) out of the total of 25 that usually land daily through the company.

There are six Ukrainian planes in Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada that fly under the Ukrainian Airlines and SkyUp flags, the latter being the second-largest airline after the state-owned company. These planes were unable to leave Egypt after the outbreak of the war between Russia and Ukraine, but their hospitality crews are being hosted in hotels.

Hamdi said that the sanctions on Russia would affect the influx of Russian tourists coming to Egypt. The EU countries have also closed their airspace to Russian airlines in reaction to the war in Ukraine.

Russian flights come to Egypt through Turkish airspace, Hamdi said, and if Turkey also closes its airspace to Russian airlines, no Russian tourists will be able to come to Egypt.

Hisham Al-Damiri, manager of the Mövenpick Sharm El-Sheikh Hotel, said that there would be arrangements to facilitate the arrival of tourists through neighbouring countries, but that this could take some time as few flights take off from Egypt to countries neighbouring Ukraine.

He said that even after the end of the war, tourism from Ukraine would likely stop due to the economic conditions affecting the country, but that tourism from Russia would not be much affected.

Al-Damiri, a former head of the Egypt Tourism Development Authority, noted that since the resumption of Russian tourism following a six-year hiatus, Egypt had been able to regain some 45 to 50 per cent of its previous number of Russian tourists.

A version of this article appears in print in the 3 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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