August 23, 2005

Tourists avoiding Sharm el-Sheikh after bombs

By Camilla Hall

CAIRO (Reuters) - Frightened tourists have been slow to
return to Egypt's south Sinai since bombs killed more than 64
people in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh last month, dragging
the regional economy into the doldrums, hoteliers said on

The resort town is a major attraction in Egypt's tourism
industry, drawing 2 million tourists and accounting for 25
percent of Egypt's room capacity in 2004.

Hotels near two bombing sites in Naama Bay, Sharm
el-Sheikh's most popular destination, have been hardest hit by
the absence of visitors and the revenue they bring.

"In relation to the normal expected rates, it is very low,
much lower than last year," said Amr Naggar, a reservation
clerk for a five-star hotel in Naama Bay.

"During the high season half-term period of October 10 to
mid-November, the hotel normally expects a 90 percent occupancy
rate. This year it has dropped to 40 percent," he added.

Hotel staff in other resorts along the Sinai coast said
they had also suffered a drop in visitors. Tourism is Egypt's
largest private sector employer.

"In all of Egypt the number of visitors have gone down. We
have had many cancellations," said Ehab Ibrahim, a reservation
clerk at a five-star hotel in Nuweiba, about 125 km (75 miles)
north of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Hala el-Khatib, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Tourism,
gave a more optimistic account of the effect the bombings have
had in Sharm el-Sheikh since the bombings on July 23.

"On July 30 there was a drop of about 50 percent compared
to July 30 last year. On August 15 there was a drop of 19
percent compared to August 15 last year," she said.

"The people are no longer willing to give in to terrorism.
People are traveling," Khatib added.

But Naggar said the bombings had wrecked reservations by
Italians and Germans, usually two of the largest groups coming
to the diving, snorkelling and beach resort.

"I haven't received a reservation for even one Italian or
one German, and no Swiss. We lost them," he said.

Some hoteliers said they had not lowered their prices but
were trying more aggressive marketing to woo back customers.

"We're not selling cheap but we are pushing more with our
marketing," said Rasha Samaha, assistant to the administrative
executive at the Moevenpick resort in Sharm el-Sheikh.

But big travel agent Abercrombie and Kent cut its prices
for Nile cruises by about a quarter for the month of September.

Airlines are also having trouble persuading people to go to
Sharm el-Sheikh. National carrier EgyptAir is still advertising
30 percent discounts for foreigners living in Egypt.

Sinai beach camps also suffered in October when bomb
attacks hit near the town of Taba, close to the Israeli border.

The camps that line the coast between Nuweiba and Taba are
usually packed with young Israelis in August but employees say
they are only 30 percent full.