|Amid news of protests and instability in Egypt, international tourists are rethinking their vacations in the nation's ultimate beach getaways in Sinai and especially Sharm El-Sheikh. The South Sinai hotspot has long been a popular port of entry for Europeans seeking sun during the winter, but recent episodes of violent attacks in tourist areas are putting more pressure on an already strained tourism industry.On January 28 a French tourist was killed and a German tourist wounded during a shooting in Sharm El-Sheikh's Old Souq area, allegedly by Bedouin gunmen. One police official told local media the gunmen were avenging the death of a tribesman, but a military official, and videos surfacing later on, asserted that the tourists were caught in the crossfire of an attempted robbery at a currency exchange bureau.
Although not officially confirmed and largely amissed by local press, further up the coast, Bedouins allegedly took over the Aqua Sun holiday resort near Taba Heights and demanded LE four million as a ransom, according to a January 24 reports in foreign press. The Bedouins reportedly claim the hotel owner stole their land, while the current owner said he had purchased it legally.
And most recently, yesterday’s press flooded with news about 25 chinese workers being held in Arish, North Sinai, by Bedouins asking for the release of their relatives held by the police for being suspects of the South Sinai attacks between 2004 and 2006. The tourists were released 15 hours later unharmed.
“Everyone is worried from the Bedouins, they are taking matters to violent extremes,” Mostafa Ahmed, a technician at Dahab Divers, says. “Their actions are having a negative effect on our businesses by causing tourists to cancel bookings or leave the country.”
Ahmed believes that the Bedouin's attacks will negatively influence the Red Sea destination and may cause great losses to the tourism industry.
A suffering tourist haven
The prospective of Sharm El Sheikh has been changed since the recent episodes of violence, but some locals say the Red Sea had already been suffering before the Sharm events.
According Mohamed El Sayed, a worker at the diving center in the Star of Dahab Hotel, the declining numbers of tourists started long before these two incidents. “We have been having problems with the low arrivals of tourists in Dahab for a while now. Work is scarce here,” El Sayed says.
Between 2004 and 2006, South Sinai weathered a series of bombings in Taba, Sharm El-Sheikh and Dahab, allegedly by militants affiliated with Palestinian and Islamist groups. Tourism rebounded quickly, and in 2009, a Ministry of Tourism report noted that 3.4 million tourists flew into Sharm El-Sheikh.
The region's peak period is during the winter holidays. “There was a visible boost in tourism during [this past] December which coincides with the western Christmas, where tourists flee the cold weather and travel to more toasty locations,” Ahmed acknowledges, but says this January has seen fewer tourists than usual. He doesn't expect many tourists in February either.
There are, however, those who remain optimistic about the future of South Sinai's tourism, noting that attacks on tourist areas are not limited to Egypt.
“These types of incidents could happen anywhere in the world, which makes tourists very understanding of the situation,” Clare Mucklow, a department manager at Camel Dive Club & Hotel in Naama Bay says. “Also, we had no problems with cancellations or future bookings whatsoever.”
In the short term, however, Egypt as a whole has experienced a drop in tourism. According to Tourism Ministry figures released in January, the industry made about $8.8 billion in revenues in 2011, down from $12.5 billion in 2010. Nearly 9.8 million tourists came to Egypt in 2011, compared to 14.7 million in 2010.
As news of alleged Bedouin attacks reaches the international media, South Sinai is bracing for another blow to its tourism industry. Residents and tourism professionals are calling for for more security reinforcements to deal with the problem.
“It is time to protect our businesses,” Ahmed says. “We need to be more secure.”