Egypt, Israel border incident affecting South Sinai tourism

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CAIRO: One of Egypt’s most favored tourism destinations, South Sinai is facing a slump during one of its traditionally flourishing seasons.

Travel agencies and hotels in the area have been looking forward to this fruitful period, Eid El-Fitr, Muslim’s feast after Ramadan, to attract tourists and hopefully make up for some losses in this otherwise sluggish year.

But after last week’s clashes on the Egypt-Israel border, several hotels in South Sinai have received cancellations, especially from the Israeli market.

Five Egyptian security personnel were killed when Israeli troops repelled gunmen following an attack near Israel’s Red Sea resort of Eilat on Thursday. Israel expressed its regret for the Egyptian deaths and said it was investigating the incident, but pressure was growing in Egypt for sterner sanctions.

The incident has strained political relations, and for tourism operators in the area, it means less numbers in the coming weeks.

Moon Island Ras Shitan, the Devil’s Head, which has always a hotspot for Israelis, located 50 km from the border, has not received any reservations from Israeli tourists for the upcoming holiday.

“I do not expect that Israelis will come this feast,” Selim Mohamed, reservations manager, told Daily News Egypt.

Sobeih Shahd, reservations manager at Sinai Trips, said the company has received around 85 cancellations from Israeli travel agencies.

However, Sofitel Taba Heights’ Mohamed Hamed said they’ve only seen a slight slump in tourists, around 10 percent from the Israeli market this season.

“We have not received any cancellations from tourists or Egyptians,” Hamed said. “Everything is running well.”

However, Osama Asham, assistant reservation manager at Sonesta Beach Resort Taba, said he received cancellations only from Israelis and Jordanians. “They are waiting for a clearer vision on the situation,” he said.

Taba is a major attraction for Israeli tourists because its border terminal is the main crossing between Israel and Egypt — that’s besides the area’s natural beauty.

As well as cancellations from Israelis, operators said the number of tourists overall has decreased slightly compared to last year.

“There is a decrease this feast in our tourists because of the recent clashes,” Shahd said.

Sherif El-Ghamrawy, founder of Basata Eco-lodge in Sinai, told DNE that they have only received two cancellations from Americans from the West Bank. Other than that many tourists called to confirm that “they are still coming,” he added.

Ghamrawy said that the two Americans said that they have cancelled their reservation because they do not want to get into trouble with Israelis, as there is “chaos here by Israelis.”

Omayma Husseini, the tourism ministry’s public relations director, told DNE that they have not received any cancellations expect to since people are concerned.

Finance Minister Hazem El-Beblawi recently said that the tourism minister reported that the occupancy rates in Sinai were “systematically and constantly recovering,” adding that if the trend is the same by the end of the year Egypt, will reach normal levels.

Husseini said the recovery process might slow down because of the recent incidents, as some people may be worried and uncertain of the situation.

“It depends on the direction it is going to wind up in the end,” she said.

The Tourism Ministry is still working on the same campaigns they have been working on since the revolution, one of which is inviting foreign media to visit.

“As a local, I tell tourists to not to be worried and definitely come and enjoy,” she added.

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