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Egypt's tourism industry suffers a critical blow

Dana Regev
July 15, 2017

The recent fatal knife attack on German nationals at a popular Egyptian resort is yet another setback for the country's troubled tourism sector. Industry officials have called for immediate action.

The Hurghada beach in Egypt's Red Sea tourism region
Image: picture-alliance/Arco Images/Schoening

A knife attack at the popular Red Sea resort of Hurghada in Egypt has left two German citizens dead and four other holidaymakers wounded. The German Foreign Ministry issued a statement Saturday saying the country is "dismayed and furious" by the stabbing of the two female tourists and that the assailant deliberately targeted foreign nationals.

The Associated Press news agency, quoting unnamed Egyptian officials, reported that the alleged attacker, a 28-year-old university graduate from the Nile Delta province of Kafr el-Sheikh, shouted during the attack: "Stay away, I don't want Egyptians." The suspect was identified by Egyptian security officials after he was arrested at the scene.

Two German tourists were killed at a hotel beach in Egypt

Although there has been no claim of responsibility yet, a source close to the investigation has told dpa news agency that the alleged attacker "communicated with [the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (IS) group] via internet and was given the task of attacking foreign tourists on Hurghada beaches" by the extremist militia.

Warnings about travel

The attack is likely to affect Egypt's tourism industry, which has already been suffering in the wake of the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak and subsequent years of political turmoil. Terrorist attacks in the Sinai Peninsula have weakened the sector even more, such as the Russian airplane blast in 2015 that killed 224 passengers or the recent "Islamic State" (IS) attack which killed more than 20 Egyptian soldiers near the city of Rafah.

However, despite a partial travel warning by Germany's Foreign Ministry, which was originally issued on July 5 and labeled current as of July 15, Egyptian radio reports that more than 1,500 German tourists arrived in Hurghada airport on Saturday alone.

"Like most countries in the Middle East, Egypt has been fighting terrorism for more than 30 years now," Ahmed, an Egyptian living in Cairo who has followed the issue closely but requested his full name not be used due to security concerns, told DW.

"That situation is not new, and foreigners keep coming," said Ahmed, who believed that the German travel warning won't last long, due to "German tourism interests in Egypt."

Karte Ägypten mit Hurghada ENG
The Red Sea region is popular with tourists, but the sector is struggling in Egypt

A sector in turmoil

According to Egypt's Ministry of Tourism, the number of tourists in the first third of 2017 increased by almost 50 percent compared to last year. But this might be a misleading figure, since the estimated revenues from tourism in the first half of this year is 70 percent lower than it was in 2010, before the beginning of the Arab Spring uprisings.

According to reports in Egyptian media, several members of Egypt's Supreme Tourism Council, including the chairman of the Red Sea Tourism Investment Association Kamel Abu Ali, have submitted their resignations in recent months.

They are protesting the mismanagement of publicity campaigns, and demanding the resignation of the Tourism Minister Yehia Rashed, who spent about $19 million (16.5 million euros) last year and another $9 million this year on his initiatives.

The annual average hotel occupancy is reaching 30 percent at best, according to officials in the industry, and tens of thousands of workers have been fired.

Read more: With tourists scarce, Egypt struggles to maintain heritage

"The Egyptian tourism system [is] on the verge of collapse, which is a great loss to Egypt's economy," representatives from the tourism sector said in a joint statement, according to the news website Egypt Independent. They also claim that restoration of tourist infrastructure is delayed due to lack of motivation to invest in an industry that no longer guarantees the income to cover the large expenses required.

A concrete threat

Many countries, including Germany, have issued travel warnings to Egypt in general and the Sinai Peninsula in particular. According to Israel's Counter-Terrorism Bureau, there is "a very concrete threat" of a terrorist attack in Sinai - the highest among five threat levels.

The German Foreign Ministry stresses the "risk of terrorist attacks" as well as abduction in the country, adding that traveling to Egypt including the tourism hotspots of the Red Sea should be done "with caution."

"Most of the Western countries have already issued a travel warning for Egypt," Ahmed said, "at least Germany - unlike Russia and the UK - is not banning flights entirely." Tourists will keep on coming to Egypt, he argued, "because it's a cheap country with amazing beaches and old heritage."