Sharm El Sheikh deserted by tourists after plane crash

Tour operators and hotel employees fear lay-offs

19 November, 18:57

    Beaches are empty in Sharm el Sheikh Beaches are empty in Sharm el Sheikh

    (by Giuseppe Maria Laudani) (ANSAmed) - SHARM EL-SHEIKH, NOVEMBER 19 - The sunny streets of Sharm El-Sheikh flanked by seaside resorts and desert stretching inland are empty.

    The economic effects of the Russian aircraft that went down on October 31 in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people onboard, are clear. Many taxis compete for passengers, offering reduced prices, and on minibuses shuttling hotel employees the fear of a crisis is palpable. ''We are concerned about tourists fleeing,'' one hotel employee said. ''In our hotel, there were about 300 before the crisis and now there are 200 of us, but I am afraid of more of us may be laid off.'' He expressed doubts about whether it had been a terrorist attack, but ''if it was, then it would be terrible. These assassins want to hit our country's economy. We are in trouble; there are ever fewer tourists here.'' While the central areas still have some holidaymakers, the northern coast of Sharm El-Sheikh has a strikingly visible lack of tourists, with its many beach umbrellas and reclining chairs empty. The Barelo Tran Sharm is offering discounts at cut-rate prices, but only about a hundred people are inside. There are various activities on offer, including Oriental dance and swimming.

    ''It's terrible,'' said the hotel's general manager, Fakher Khalifa. ''It's difficult, especially since we do not have any prospects for the future, either. It's the insecurity that frightens us.'' Before the Russian aircraft went down, ''the hotel had a 75-80% occupancy rate. We are now at 10% and we are some of the lucky ones.'' Khalifa has no doubts, however, that ''Sharm is a safe place.

    It's one matter for us to say it, though, and another to convince tourists to come.'' The discounts and promotions ''don't make much of a difference'', ''since people are willing to pay for a holiday they deserve. But how do we convince them that they are not at risk here?'' The real problem, he said, is that ''there is no long-term vision in this country, of prospects and business strategies''.

    He added that the crisis will ''last for days, months and maybe years. Who knows...and I am afraid.'' The hall is deserted, as is the restaurant. In the street, shops along the main drag are shuttered.

    Further south towards Nama Bay there is more movement. There are only a few tourists, but they are visible. Hotel employees brighten up on hearing Italian spoken, rushing to reassure everyone that Egypt is safe. Taxi drivers and shopkeepers do the same. An employee of a large hotel noted that prior to the crisis, all the rooms used to be booked up but the occupancy rate had since fallen to 40%. An Italian couple noted that ''we have been coming here for years and at 10:30 it was difficult to find a spot on the beach.

    It's entirely empty now.'' Egypt's investigation into the cause of the Airbus continues, while Russian deputy foreign minister Sergey Riabkov has said that Russia and the US were working together at the level of the ''secret services and investigative bodies'' to ascertain who was behind the incident. (ANSAmed).

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