Britain warns of Egyptian travel risks

The Foreign Office last night warned British holidaymakers that their security could not be guaranteed if they travelled through parts of Egypt.

As the implications of yesterday's massacre reverberated through the travel industry, officials upgraded previous advice to visitors to be vigilant. They warned that travellers should not visit the central part of the country, including the top tourist destination of Luxor.

A statement issued by the Foreign Office last night said: "Almost 300,000 British tourists visited Egypt in 1995 without security incident. The Egyptian authorities attach the highest priority to protecting visitors. But, as the latest attack has shown, security cannot be guaranteed and tourists appear, in this incident, to have been the deliberate target. Visitors are advised not to travel by road, rail or river to or through the Governorate of Minya, unless they have specific business there."

The massacre comes just as the country's tourism industry was recovering from the first terrorist attacks that occurred four years ago.

Despite the latest warnings Alex Woolfall, of the Association of British Travel Agents, said many would continue to go because Egypt was a unique destination. "If there is a threat from terrorism on a Caribbean island, you go to another island. But there is nowhere quite like Egypt. People want to cruise down the Nile and see the pyramids at Giza. They want the particular experience you can only get in Egypt."

Abta always passes on the latest Foreign Office advice to members and suggests that people follow the advice, Mr Woolfall said. He added that he travelled to Egypt last month.

"Militant groups have said they would target tourists since 1992 and Egyptian authorities have spent a lot of money on tourist police," he said.

"This is one isolated incident at a hotel outside Cairo. Five years ago, people would be put off by a bomb, but there has been fighting in northern Sri Lanka and people still go, and 12,000 people went to Croatia last year despite the fighting."

Ahmed Sharaf, press attache at the Egyptian embassy in London, said that they had few details of the latest incident but wanted to reassure tourists that "this is an individual attack and we don't know what the motives are. But it [Egypt] is safe".

A spokeswoman at the Egyptian Tourist Office, which has received calls from travellers anxious about the situation, said: "The advice at the moment is to carry on with their plans."