Egypt Expects Quick Tourism Recovery after Attacks, but Could Lose Billions in Meantime

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Egypt's tourism industry will suffer a short-term blow in the wake of the Sharm el-Sheik attacks but will bounce back quickly, the nation's tourism minister said Sunday.

A leading financial analyst, however, predicted that Saturday's attacks, which killed 88 people, could cost the industry - Egypt's No. 1 source of foreign currency exchange - up to $2 billion during the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

The fallout has already started.

Italy, Egypt's top tourist market, has advised its citizens not to travel to Sharm, while some tour operators are offering bleak, medium-term forecasts for the industry.

Some 6,000 tourists flew out of Sharm in the first 24 hours following the bombings, about double the number expected, according to Tourism Minister Ahmed El Maghraby.

Many of those who left were desperate to flee following the attacks, flying out on unscheduled flights added by airlines, including Egypt's national carrier, EgyptAir.

"Of course the attacks will have an impact, but I feel the industry will rebuild very quickly because of the recent pattern of bombings around the world," El Maghraby told The Associated Press. "People are no longer shocked by these things."

But Hani Genena, senior economist at EFG-Hermes - Egypt's top brokerage - said he believed tourists from Italy, Germany and Britain will stay away from Egypt in droves during the current financial year amid fears of further terror attacks and a general unease about travel to the Middle East and Muslim countries.

"There will be a long-lasting effect on the tourism industry for the next six months at least," Genena, who is preparing a report on the impact of the attacks on the economy, told the AP.

Genena's firm had predicted tourism would bring $7 billion into the local economy during the current fiscal year, about $1.4 billion more than 2003-04.

But following Saturday's attacks, Genena estimated gross tourism revenues for the current year would only reach $5 billion to $5.5 billion, levels below those of two years ago.

"Sharm attracts one-quarter to one-third of all tourists coming into Egypt, with the bulk from Italy, Germany and Britain. And these nationalities normally are very sensitive to incidents such as attacks," said Genena.

El Maghraby, the tourism minister, described as "ridiculous" Genena's prediction of a $2 billion shortfall, saying it was too early to give an estimate of losses.

July and, particularly, August are traditionally Egypt's two biggest months for tourism, especially in Sharm, where Europeans, led by Italians, fly to the beach resort in the tens of thousands.

Tourism operators are bracing for the worst, particularly in Sharm, which attracted at least 20 percent of Egypt's 8.7 million visitors in 2004.

Shares on the Egyptian Stock Exchange fell 3 percent Sunday, driven down by the battering taken by Egypt's biggest tourism industry company, Orascom Projects and Touristic Development, said Genena. Its shares fell from $6.70 apiece at Thursday's close to $5.70 Sunday, the start of the Egyptian business week.

Following Italy's warning to its citizens not to travel to Sharm, the Italian Association of Tour Operators said all package tours to Sharm were temporarily suspended and it had sent planes to fly home the estimated 6,000 to 7,000 Italian package tourists in Sharm.

Some 30,000 Italian tourists were in Egypt at the time of the attacks, with 80 percent in Sharm, said the Italian Foreign Ministry. Travel operators estimated that another 9,000 Britons, 2,500 Germans and more from other European nations were in the resort at the time of the attacks.

In London, the Association of British Travel Agents sounded more upbeat, but spokeswoman Frances Tuke said some Britons have cut short their Egyptian holidays.

"Holiday companies are carrying on with tours to Sharm el-Sheik and to Egypt generally," Tuke said. "Tour operators are in contact with the Foreign Office and with the Egyptian tourist office people who have assured us that security is being stepped up in Sharm el-Sheik."

German travel operator TUI said about 250 of the company's 1,600 customers in Sharm and nearby areas had opted to return home. Another firm, Thomas Cook, said it was bringing 100 of its 813 German customers in the region back Sunday.

Several German firms are offering customers booked to travel to Egypt this summer the chance to switch to other destinations, but only a "very few" tourists in Egypt currently want to return, Klaus Laepple of the Association of German Travel Agents and Tour Operators told ZDF television.

"However, in the long term, we expect of course that this will have a substantial effect on tourism in Egypt," said Laepple.

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