Egypt tourism expected to recover after kidnappings

2nd October 2008, Comments 0 comments

The Egyptian government is highlighting its efforts in the hostages' release, eager to claim it as a success to minimize the effect on one of its most important industries.


Cairo -- A peaceful end to Egypt's tourist hostage crisis this week and no apparent link between the kidnappers and Islamic militants means it will likely be a quickly passing storm for Egypt's booming tourism industry.

The Egyptian government is highlighting its efforts in the hostages' release, eager to claim it as a success to minimize the effect on one of its most important industries.

Egyptian officials welcomed the five Germans, five Italians, eight Egyptians and one Romanian with flowers at the airport and took them to a military hospital to check on their health before they flew home to their countries.

Tourism has reached record levels this year in the absence of any attacks that previously plagued the industry. Tourism revenues represented around 6.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2007 and the industry employs an estimated 10 percent of the workforce in the most populous Arab country.

The Egyptian tourism industry was hit by its bloodiest attack in the Pharaonic city of Luxor in 1997. The attack by an extremist Islamic group, which massacred 63 tourists at Temple of Hatshepsut, dealt a major blow to the Egyptian tourism industry.

However, the kidnapping of the tourists by a gang of masked men while on safari in the Gilf Kebir region of Egypt's Western Desert seems to be a new phenomenon.

"The kidnapping is not connected to terrorist attacks that have happened in Egypt in the past years," said Simon Kitchen, senior economist at Cairo-based investment bank EFG-Hermes. "It is hard to compare the incidents of crime to past terrorist attacks."

A string of bombings in the Sinai in 2004 and 2006 also had a far less serious impact on tourism than the Luxor attack, Kitchen said.

Tourism companies said the effect of the kidnappings so far seems mild.

"We did not get any reservation cancellations," said the Deputy Director of Tourism Operations at TRAVCO, one of Egypt's giant tourism companies.

"We made sure to clarify to our tourists through tourist operators that the attack was a criminal one and this differs in nature to the terrorist attacks where hundreds of people die in a mass explosion," said Moataz Sedky.

Also an armed kidnapping attack in the primitive Sahara desert, a remote, lightly-policed area, is unlikely to have a broad impact on the hotel industry and commercial locations such as the Red Sea resorts in the Sinai Peninsula.

"I don't see the kidnapping of tourists near the Sudanese border having much impact on tourism arrivals on the Red Sea," Kitchen said.

German Institute for International and Security Affairs expert Guido Steinberg referred to the kidnappings as a "Saharan" phenomenon that takes place in huge open desert spaces along smuggling routes for people, weapons, and drugs.

"Traveling in the Sahara has become more dangerous in recent years," he said, comparing the incident to the kidnapping of an Austrian couple in Tunisia last February.

After the kidnapping the Egyptian security forces intensified their efforts to secure the Sahara between the Egyptian and Sudanese borders. Egyptian Tourism Minister Zuheir Garana promised Monday at a press conference to coordinate with security forces to ensure that the incident does not happen again.

In addition, desert bandits have generally not been as violent as Islamic militants who slaughter tourists in 1997 or blew up hotels full of innocent travelers in 2004 and 2006.

The kidnappers in the Sahara seemed to be motivated by money, not by a desire to kill.

And many of the freed tourists said that they would return to Egypt again despite the ordeal.

"This was my first visit to Egypt and I am planning to visit Egypt in the future," one of the freed Italian hostages told the Egyptian state news agency. "What has happened (the kidnapping) could happen in any other country."

-- Shereen el-Gazzar/DPA/Expatica

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