CAIRO: The Egyptian resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh on Sunday received the first British passenger flight since 2015 when a Russian airliner was bombed, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.
The British Foreign Office announced last November it had lifted the suspension. Flights will resume from Gatwick, Edinburgh and Birmingham airports, with five flights weekly from this month to May 2020.
A statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation said that Sharm El-Sheikh Airport received two TUI European-operated flights, the first British charter flights to the Egyptian Red Sea in five years. The first flight arrived from Gatwick with 184 passengers on board, while the second arrived from Manchester with 190 passengers.
Tourism experts predicted that the return of British flights would increase hotel occupancy in Sharm El-Sheikh since the resort destination had a large hotel room capacity and was ready to receive British tourists as well as tourists from around the world.
Before the travel ban, 906,000 British tourists spent 9.5 million nights in Egypt, with more than 600,000 British tourists spending their holiday in Sharm El-Sheikh. Experts expected that number to go up after the return of flights. They expect more than one million British tourists to visit Egypt in 2020.
"We are all thrilled with the return of British tourism to Egypt,” Hossam El-Shaer, head of the Tourism Companies Federation, said. “The total number of British tourists who arrived in Egypt in 2010 was more than one million. Hence, their return means they will return in the same numbers and they very much have an impact on tourism in Egypt.”
El-Shaer added that while British tourists stopped going to Sharm El-Sheikh they continued to visit another Egyptian resort city, Hurghada.
“However, Sharm El-Sheikh is very significant to them since it is their prime destination. With the resumption of flights, around one million British tourists are expected to arrive in Sharm in El-Sheikh and other destinations in Egypt by 2021. This is a good percentage of the total number of tourists who come to Egypt, around 13 million annually.”
British tourism had previously focused on cultural tourism but it was following the global trend toward beach and leisure tourism. “Therefore, their return to Sharm El-Sheikh is very significant,” he said.
Tamer Makram, head of the South Sinai Investors Committee, said that Sharm El-Sheikh had been ready “for a long time” to receive British tourists, from resorts to infrastructure and security. He expressed hope that Russian tourists would also return soon.
He said the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities had formed special committees and that the ministry would follow up on the committee’s observations.
“There are no longer any observations in terms of security, health and food safety as a result of the huge efforts exerted in this regard,” Makram added.
Egypt’s parliament hailed the return of British tourism. MP Yasser Omar, secretary of the Planning and Budgetary Committee, said the British flights showed that Britain had started to “correct misconceptions” about safety and security in Egypt which would encourage other countries to resume their flights to Sharm El-Sheikh.
He added that Britain took the decision only after it was sure that high-level airport safety and security measures were taken in Egypt which conformed to international standards.
Omar said more tourists would come to Egypt, especially Russians as they represented the majority of tourists to the country.
MP Amin Massoud called for flights between Sharm El-Sheikh and Liverpool as a way of capitalizing on the popularity of footballer Mohamed Salah to promote Egyptian tourism, following the same approach with Egyptian players Mahmoud Trezeget and Ahmed El-Mohamady who play for Aston Villa.
Massoud said Britons made up the largest contingent of European tourists to Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada. Therefore, he added, the ministries of aviation and tourism should make use of Egyptian players who were popular in the UK to promote tourism in Egypt.