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17 Aug, 2013 03:56

Vacation amid violence: Russians flock to Egyptian resorts despite travel warnings

Vacation amid violence: Russians flock to Egyptian resorts despite travel warnings

Egypt’s tourism industry is facing a meltdown after a number of governments issued travel warnings for the popular tourist destination. But despite official alerts, Russians continue to flock to Red Sea resorts to secure their place under the sun.

The Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) announced the cancelation of sales of tours to Egypt, after the Ministry of Tourism warned of increased violence on the ground. The group plans to file an official petition urging the Russian Aviation Ministry and Transport Ministry to limit the number of flights into Egypt. Earlier, both agencies advised Russian nationals against traveling to Egypt.

More than 50,000 Russians already purchased tours for the end of August and early autumn. If the country’s political unrest continues, tour operators are expected to lose US$35 million, ATOR director Maya Lomidze said during a Friday press conference. Around 50, 000 Russians are vacationing in Egypt at the moment.

"Tour sales peak at the end of September for individual tours taking place in October and November. According to rough estimates, we are talking about 50,000 tickets. The average cost of travel to Egypt for one person is around $600 or $700, so a preliminary amount of losses to the travel agencies can be estimated at $35 million," Lomidze said. She also warned that while Egypt loses its clients, prices for other destinations such as Turkey and Greece might rise bteween 7 to 10 percent.

Meanwhile, Russian authorities said those who bought tours to Egypt are eligible for a full refund.

"The consumer, if he did not use the service, has the right to demand 100 percent of their money back,” chief of Russian consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, Gennady Onishchenko, told reporters on Friday. He added that he does not intend to formally prohibit Russians from vacationing in Egypt, but hoped that they would choose to do so voluntarily. 

Image from twitter.com @Yahyadiwer

On Thursday, Rospotrebnadzor said that Russian tourists who are on holiday in Egypt are eligible to be evacuated from the country, with their services and transportation paid for.

At the same time, a Russian embassy official told Interfax that a portion of Russians already vacationing in Egypt are ending their stay prematurely.

"As for the Russians who are now in Egypt, many of them want to prematurely end their stay. They are getting in touch directly with tour operators and airlines"
to return home, Zaur Huseynov said.

So far, the situation at Egypt’s Red Sea resorts is stable. However, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry has offered to evacuate citizens.

But despite the warnings, around 2,500 people have left for Egypt from the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

"Overall, 13 fully booked flights have left,”
Lomidze told reporters. She added that 10,000 people - or 20 percent of purchasers - have cancelled their planned tours.

"There is no full travel ban. There are only guidelines,”
deputy chief of Russia’s Federal Tourism Ministry, Eugene Pisarevsky, told Rossiskya Gazeta. “The constitutional right of citizens to travel outside the country cannot be limited. So the responsibility for the trip lies entirely on the shoulders of the travelers," Pisarevsky added.

Foreign nations limit travel to Egypt

Thomas Cook Germany and TUI Germany have cancelled all trips to Egypt after the German Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning. The tour companies have allowed customers to rebook to other destinations free of charge.

Germany has advised against all travel to Egypt, although some travel agencies continue to fly to the Egyptian beaches which attract around 1.2 million Germans every year.

Smoke rises over Ramses Square as members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi protest in front of Azbkya police station in Cairo, August 16, 2013 (Reuters / Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

France, Belgium, Sweden, and Switzerland have also issued travel warnings to Egypt, although it is up to individual operators to cancel flights.

British travel agents will continue flights to Egypt's Red Sea resorts, despite warnings from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office not to visit most of the country. Around 40,000 Britons are currently on holiday in Egypt, according to ABTA, which represents the nation’s travel agents.

Meanwhile, tour operators in Finland decided to evacuate their customers following an official government warning against travel to the country. Travel companies Finnmatkat and Tjäreborg have decided to fly back all Finnish residents currently on vacation in Egypt.

“We’ve decided to cancel trips to Egypt from today until the end of September,” Tjäreborg sales and marketing chief Peter Kåla said.

Those in Egypt have been advised by holiday makers not to leave their hotels, while trips to major sites such as Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, and Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai have mostly been canceled.

Prior to the Arab Spring, Egypt attracted 14.7 million visitors in 2010 - including 2.8 million Russians, 1.5 million Britons, and 1.3 million Germans, according to UN figures.

Before the turmoil, tourism accounted for $13 billion, or some 11 percent of the country’s GDP, according to the World Tourism Organization.

The number of tourists plummeted to 9.5 million in 2011. In the first five months of 2013 - before the ousting of President Morsi - tourist numbers were up 12 percent from the year prior.

A military helicopter flies over clouds of smoke after clashes between members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi at Azbkya police station during clashes at Ramses Square in Cairo, August 16, 2013 (Reuters / Amr Abdallah Dalsh)