One of the largest Italian travel companies is organizing four weekly flights from the cities of Naples and Bari to Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh for the first time, raising hopes for the revival of the Red Sea tourism sector which has been hit hard in recent years, said Hesham el-Demeiry, the head of Egypt’s Tourism Promotion Authority, on Wednesday.
These trips will include around 180 tourists per flight, amounting to a total of 2,800 Italian tourists per month, which el-Demeiry sees as the first step toward the return of Italian tourism to Sharm el-Sheikh after its decline.
“Egypt’s tourism authority is seeking to attract all markets from all over the world, especially the Italian market. We will first focus on reviving the traditional form of tourism, then we will market therapeutic and rehabilitation forms as well,” El-Demeiry said on Wednesday at an event organized by Italian travel companies in celebration of the resumption of flights to Sharm el-Sheikh.
Egypt-Italy relations deteriorated after Guilio Regeni, an Italian Cambridge University PhD candidate disappeared on January 25, 2016 in central Cairo as police came out in full force in anticipation of protests to commemorate of the revolution. The 28-year-old man's body, bearing signs of torture, was later found by the side of a road.
Sharm el-Sheikh has suffered from a sharp drop in tourist visits over the past year after a Russian passenger plane was downed, killing all 224 people onboard. A number of countries, including the United Kingdom and Russia, banned all flights to the resort town following the plane crash due to security concerns.
Last February, a visiting Italian delegation called on European countries to end the travel restrictions they had imposed on Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada and other Egyptian destinations.
The United Kingdom, a major source of tourists for Egypt is yet to lift its ban. But, UK travel company Thomas Cook has announced in March it has a number of flights planned to the Red Sea resort for November 2017.
"We currently have a number of flights planned to Sharm el-Sheikh from November 2017. Currently the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all travel into Sharm el-Sheikh airport and if the advice doesn't change, all holidays this winter will be cancelled," the travel group said on their website.
Russia has also yet to lift its flight ban, despite numerous inspections of Egyptian airports by Russian aviation security experts.
Egypt has been battling to recover the badly-affected tourism sector over the course of 2016, after years of political turmoil since the 25 January uprising in 2011. Egypt's tourism authority says the number of tourists visiting Egypt dropped by 50 percent in the first half of 2016, compared to a year ealier.