After almost six years of suspension, Hurghada International Airport received its first flight coming from Moscow on Monday.
Russia had imposed a travel ban on Egypt following the crash ofa Russian passenger plane in Sinai, in late October 2015, killing all its passengers.
In January 2018, the Russian government gave permission for regular flights to resume to Cairo International Airport after a two-year halt, with Russian flights from Moscow actually returning to Cairo in April.
Egypt and Russia have agreed in April 2021, to resume all flights between the two countries, but particularly to the Red Sea cities of Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh.
The resumption of flights was agreed upon during a phone call between Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, according to a statement by Egypt’s Presidency on Friday.
“I think that the official announcement of the resumption of Russian charter flights to the Egyptian resorts after almost six years of hiatus is a wonderful and joyful thing for everyone, as the Russian market is huge and is thirsty for travel and the Russian people are adventurous that are not affected by the events like other peoples,” said Said El Batouty, an economic adviser at the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and member of the UN Economic Commission for Europe.
Speaking to Daily News Egypt, he added that the return of normal Russian flights will definitely be a catalyst for a number of other markets to resume flights to Egypt. These include markets such as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), including Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, and others.
El Batouty said that the return of Russian tourists will undoubtedly help hotels in the Red Sea region and tourism companies to operate during the coming period, until matters stabilise.
He also said that although the third wave of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is now having a very negative impact on global demand, it will come to an end. He believes that international tourism will remain volatile and will continue to suffer until next September, until a predominant proportion of the exporting and receiving societies of the tourism movement is vaccinated. It is only then that things will settle down.
Hisham El Demery, former chairperson of the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Board (ETPB) also praised the flight resumption decision, stating that Russia is a huge tourism exporter. As a result, when it decides to return its confidence to the Egyptian tourism market, it will, as a result, stimulate visitors from many other countries to come and visit Egypt.
Speaking to Daily News Egypt, El Demery said that there should be no expectation that the numbers of Russian visitors will quickly return to those levels achieved between 2010 and 2015. He mentioned that it will take at least two years for this to happen. Notably, Russia was ranked as the number one exporter of tourists to Egypt.
El Demery said that there are three reasons for this expectation. First, Russian tourists that have been previously in Egypt were travelling using charter flights. He now expects these visitors to travel using low-cost or regular flights, with the use of charter flights to return only gradually.
Second, he said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world will not depend on the quantity of tourism, but rather the quality. Thirdly, travel will also be expensive for people, bearing in mind the economic repercussions of the pandemic.
El Demery said that Egypt should bear in mind that most Russian tourists have not visited Egypt since 2015, so they are thirsty to visit Egypt. However, these services must, in return, provide quality due to the more discerning taste.
He added that Russian tourists have travelled to different destinations during the six-year stoppage of flights to Egypt. As a result, they will compare the quality of the tourism product, ensuring that Egypt must pay great attention to the quality and training factor and to ensure the tourist finds a perfect tourism product.
“We must make use of e-platforms to market and promote, rather than relying solely on tour operators and charter flights, and we must combine beach and cultural tourism together,” he said.
El Demery praised the great efforts made by the Egyptian Government during the years of the hiatus, stating that Egypt was able to attract alternative markets to Russia.
He said that, since 2015, Egypt began to attract non-traditional markets, including visitors from Ukraine and Poland. He also noted that before 2014, only four markets represented more than 75% of Egypt’s annual tourism revenues, namely Russia, Germany, England, and Italy.
“We are expecting that after the resumption of Russian aviation, Egypt will receive 40% of the total number of tourists [13 million] who visited the country in 2019, which is estimated at 5 to 6 million tourists by the end of 2021,” Mohamed Kaoud, President of the EJB’s Tourism and Aviation Committee.
Speaking to Daily News Egypt, Kaoud indicated that the return of Russian flights comes due to the measures taken by the Egyptian Government to enhance the health and safety of tourists.
He stressed that the decision to resume tourism has had a positive effect despite the continued global health crisis, given that the Russian tourism market is the most important for the Egyptian tourism sector.
Kaoud, a member of Young Arab Leaders organisation, added that Russia used to export 30% of Egypt’s total inbound tourism to cities along the Red Sea coast.
In 2015, Egypt received approximately 3 million Russian tourists, but only 100,000 in 2017 after the crisis caused by the Russian plane crash.
Kaoud noted that the Egyptian Government’s decision to vaccinate workers in the tourism sector in Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada has had a strong effect on attracting more tourists and preparing for tourist delegations from various countries.