Russia and Britain’s decision to evacuate their citizens from Sharm El-Sheikh was received with various reactions and responses. The city is the most famous tourist spot in Egypt, frequented by numerous Europeans who spend their summer and Christmas holidays along the Red Sea.
A number of tourists and hotel employees said Putin took the decision when he felt embarrassed by David Cameron’s decision to evacuate British nationals from Sharm El-Sheikh via private jets. Other tourists responded that their countries have the right to be concerned for their peoples, while some added that it is their right to enjoy their vacation as they don’t see a reason to rush back to their countries before the end of their trips. They said they feel safe in Sharm El-Sheikh.
Daily News Egypt spent 48 hours in Sharm El-Sheikh, the most popular and famous among tourists from around the world. Two months ago, the city witnessed a decline in tourism rates, according to a number of tourism sector workers. They said it is unusual at this particular time of year, close to the Christmas celebrations.
President Putin promised President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in a telephone call, to reinitiate Russian flights to Sharm El-Sheikh as soon as possible after the decision to halt Russian flights from flying over Sinai, following the Russian Metrojet airplane that crashed last week.
The journey began from Sharm El-Sheikh Airport, specifically from the departure hall at 6:00 pm. The number of tourists there was not significant. A number of British nationals and Russians said their flights are not due to their countries’ decision, but because their trips had come to an end. They affirmed that they have enjoyed their vacation in Sharm El-Sheikh, stressing that it is the right of their governments to be concerned for their own people, whatever their motives are for the evacuation. They also added that it is also their right to enjoy Sharm El-Sheikh city, “the most beautiful and wonderful in terms of nature, climate and atmosphere”.
General Wael Abdel-Razek, the Security Manager of Airports and Ports, told Daily News Egypt that the United Kingdom sent a technical committee to follow up on securing the airplanes carrying its citizens, adding that such a step does not contradict with international norms.
He was surprised by the UK’s decision, followed by Russia’s decision to evacuate its citizens, which spread fear among tourists, asserting that none of the incoming flights were cancelled, and that flights left the airport in accordance with their schedules.
He added that Sharm El-Sheikh Airport is internationally known for its level of security, and it is one of the few airports that conducts the inspection process and sterilisation for all luggage twice. Abdel-Razek said the airport owns advanced devices that can automatically detect any tools, devices, explosives, or any material harmful to the security of the airport or the passengers.
He said also the UK had sent six inspection committees over the past year and all of them praised the security status and securing the airport, the airplanes, and the passengers.
Abdel-Razek added that all the workers in the airport were subject to security investigations, and they are being inspected daily. Even the food cars cannot enter the airport; they are being inspected and discharged in cars affiliated to the airport.
He said conclusions should not be made on the Russian airplane crash until the black boxes are fully checked and analysed.
Abdel-Razek said he was not officially informed of the Russian decision, and that the airport received more than 40 flights on Friday, coming from all over the world, carrying about 8,000 tourists, most of whom are Russians.
In the arrival halls
In the arrival halls, we met a number of Russian tourists arriving for vacation. They assured that, in spite of their sadness for the victims of the Russian Metrojet plane, they trust that the Egyptian authorities did their job. Some of them said it is not their first trip, and that the matter was discussed among their groups and their decision was to complete their trip and enjoy Sharm El-Sheikh, especially since they feel completely secure in the city.
They said they understood their government’s decision, noting that they have been informed that cancelling their trips is only optional, so some decided to continue on their trips. They expressed their feeling that the decisions may have a political side, but that can only lead to more security, which means they can continue their trips feeling safer.
There was a low number of tourists at the hotel booked for our stay. An employee told us that the vacation periods of many tourists have ended, but no tours were cancelled. He noted that the hotel was fully occupied four days ago, and that the occupancy rate stands at 40%, which is uncommon for this time of the year.
In the evening, we spent the night at Soho Square. We came across a British couple celebrating the wife’s birthday. She said she would never give up her vacation due to political proof-less information. “This is my birthday, and nobody can ruin it,” she said. The husband said Sharm El-Sheikh is one of the safest cities in the world, and that he intends to come again next year.
A number of shop workers however said the turnout is weak. However, they added that tourism workers expect the flow to grow with the New Year’s celebrations.
Amira Tadros, an Egyptian who recently returned to Egypt from the US to work in marketing in Sharm El-Sheikh, said the state needs to think outside the box to attract more tourists, especially as the city has all the requirements for this. She added that she believes that corrupting tourism in Sharm El-Sheikh is “premeditated”.
In one of the diving centres, Daily News Egypt learned that the situation is not the same as it used to be in terms of demand, where it dropped to half after the plane crash. Now, the groups that goes diving range between seven to 10 persons, compared to before, where the delegations reached 15 persons.
Bar owners said they do not sell as much anymore, which affects the level of income. They accused authorities responsible for the revitalisation of tourism of being neglectful in the promotion of the city despite all the capabilities it has.
One of the pharmacists told us he had to shut down his pharmacy due to the recession the city is experiencing, and stressed that the plane incident was one of the reasons, but the main reason for the low tourism rates in Sharm El-Sheikh is the poor promotion.
A number of British and Russian tourists said the Russian, British and French decisions are not convincing to them, which made them continue their trips.
Workers, who have been in Sharm El-Sheikh for 20 years, said the current crisis is not the most difficult the city has faced; however, the timing is very unfortunate as there are preparations for Christmas celebrations.
Hotel official Waleed Bakr said the hotel has an occupancy rate of more than 80%, adding that there are families from all over the world that are used to travelling to Sharm El-Sheikh every year, and are opposed to their governments‘ decisions.
He added that there were no cancellations at the hotel; however, there were a number of postponements. Sharm El-Sheikh hotels are not planning any changes in their preparations for New Year’s Eve.
Life is going on normally in Sharm El-Sheikh. However, Egyptians working there are worried about the negative effects of the international campaign that targets the most attractive Egyptian city.