Egypt minister downplays plane crash impact on tourism industry

By Salma El Wardany, Ahmed Feteha

Egypt's tourism minister said last week's EgyptAir plane crash is unlikely to affect government plans to attract millions of visitors next year.

The ministry is maintaining its projection that 10 million tourists will visit the North African nation in 2017, generating $12 billion in revenue, Yehia Rashed said in an interview Sunday in his office in Cairo. Egypt will not cut prices for vacationers because the country already offers "good value."

"Nothing has changed in my view," he said. "We're going to work hard, we're going to set high targets and we're going to do everything we can do to maximize tourism revenues."

The crash of Flight 804 with 66 people on board was the latest blow to an Egyptian tourism industry already suffering from five years of political turmoil. Tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2016 were 40 percent lower than a year earlier, mainly as Russia, the U.K. and Germany imposed a travel ban following the October downing of an aircraft full of tourists over Sinai.

The cause of the latest crash has not been determined yet, with the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi saying all scenarios "remain open." Egypt will dispatch a submarine to help search for debris and data records from the doomed flight.

Tourism is an important source of foreign currency for the Egyptian economy already suffering from a dollar crunch that has slowed down economic activity. The industry directly employed 1.3 million people, or 5.2 percent of Egypt's workforce in 2014, and makes up around 3.5 percent of the economy.

Rashed called for an immediate lifting of the travel bans imposed on Egypt, saying that terrorism is a threat faced by all countries.

Terrorism "is a global issue. I'm sure people in the U.K., in the U.S. or France have the same worries," he said. "We need to separate politics from tourism; tourism is a lifestyle, it has a social and economical impact we can't mix it with politics."

- Bloomberg

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