Sinai plane crash: Egyptian resorts fear collapse in business after flights are banned

'First we had a problem with shark attacks, then we had the revolution - now there’s this dramatic end to the story'

Ruth Michaelson
Friday 06 November 2015 22:39 GMT
A beach in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in 2013
A beach in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in 2013 (Getty)

At the pool of the Delta Sharm Resort in Sharm el-Sheikh, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” blares over the speakers while the guests eat lunch. Some splash through the blue water to the swim-up bar, or lie on the loungers soaking up the early November sun, with midday temperatures easily exceeding 30 degrees even this late in the year.

But behind the winding maze of white-painted villas, manicured lawns and gently swaying palm trees, the general manager of the resort, Gamal Sobhi, is starting to worry.

“Russian tourists are 80 per cent of my business, the remaining 20 per cent are British. But we’re still taking reservations from Russian clients today,” he said, sipping coffee in the early afternoon. “Perhaps if another week passes without strong evidence about the cause of the attack being a bomb, everything will return to normal.”

Mr Sobhi was angry that the British government had banned flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, as well as at David Cameron’s backing of British intelligence suspicions that a bomb caused the crash of Metrojet flight 7K9268. “They just came out too quickly and said it,” he said. “It’s impolite. Our President was in your country, and then something like this happens.”

Later in the day, as news broke that Russia had followed the British, Dutch, Irish and Germans in suspending all routine flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, Mr Sobhi was distraught. “It’s a joke. It’s not just at Sharm, but all of Egypt,” he said. “There will be no business, zero. This is terrible.”

The Delta Sharm resort employs 500 people, mostly from Cairo and Alexandria, to service its 200 rooms - many of which will now be empty as the next guests fail to appear. Sharm el-Sheikh had been seen as a last bastion of the faltering Egyptian tourist industry, struggling to come back to life from the chaos and instability that followed Egypt’s January 2011 uprising.

“First we had a problem with shark attacks, then we had the revolution - and now there’s this dramatic end to the story,” said Mr Sobhi. “But during the revolution, the only clients we had were British. So frankly, if the British government knows something about the crash that we don’t, we all have to know.”

As the fallout from the crash of Metrojet flight 7K9268 continues, those working in Sharm el-Sheikh’s the tourism industry fear the worsening news about the cause of the disaster could cause huge financial and job losses. Tourism earned Egypt approximately £5bn last year, £1bn more than in 2013 and equivalent to 11.3 per cent of GDP. That upturn seems likely to be short lived following the events of this week.

Brits stranded in Egypt

“Of course this will affect things negatively,” said an employee of the Travco travel agency inside Sharm el-Sheikh airport, who declined to give his name as he is not supposed to speak to the media. Travco receives 21 flights a week from the UK alone, he said. “We don’t know why the British created this problem,” he complained. “We don’t have the information yet [about the crash].”

Job losses would affect the entire town, which depends almost entirely on tourism for its survival. Saeed Abdel Rahman, a taxi driver who earns his living driving foreigners around the district, said he feared the losses would extend far beyond Sharm el-Sheikh and damage Egypt’s economy as a whole.

“It’s going to be a complete mess, for me and for other people too,” he said, gazing sadly out onto the resort’s winding and increasingly deserted roads.

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