Sinai air crash threatens Egypt's tourism lifeline

A sunset view of Sharm al-Sheikh. © Boris Babanov
The resort of Sharm el Sheikh has been a tourist oasis in conflict-torn Egypt. Speculation that terrorism may have caused Saturday’s crash of a Russian airliner is threatening the country's tourism industry.

Egypt is very dependent on hard currency coming from foreign tourists. One in nine of the population depends on the industry for their living, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The UK has already prohibited flights in and out of Sharm el-Sheikh airport due to the “significant possibility” the Metrojet Airbus was brought down by an explosion onboard.

The decision is likely to affect as many as 20,000 Britons, some of whom are stuck in Egypt due to the flight ban.

Two of the largest airlines in Europe, Lufthansa and Air France, have also decided to temporarily halt flights over the Sinai Peninsula.

After a terrorist attack that killed at least 90 in 2005, Sharm el Sheikh has been acknowledged as a fortress in troubled Egypt. Even during the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak the tourist flow never ended. Things may be different now.

Mina Badr, owner of the Blue Stone Restaurant in Sharm el Sheikh, says his business largely depends on the crash investigation. “If someone brought it down, things might be ruined,” he told the New York Times.

A spokesperson for the Russian tourism industry union Irina Tyurina reported a 50 percent drop in sales on Saturday, the day of the crash. However, she added that this was a “shock reduction” and that in a while people would realize this was an exceptional situation and would return to Egypt, the most popular tourist destination for Russians.

On Thursday, Egypt's civil aviation minister said investigators found no evidence so far that an explosion caused the crash of the Russian plane. The country's President has called claims that militants linked to Islamic State brought down the airliner "propaganda".

Moscow says it's waiting for the results of the investigation.