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Tourism experts play down Luxor effect

Experts believe Egypt's tourism industry will soon be back on its feet

(Keystone)

Tour operators say they do not expect Saturday’s bombings in Sharm el-Sheikh to have a long-term impact on the number of Swiss travelling to Egypt.

Tourist numbers fell by two-thirds and took years to recover after the 1997 Luxor massacre in which Islamic militants killed 58 foreigners, including 36 Swiss.

On Monday travel companies reported a rash of cancellations in the wake of this weekend’s attacks in the Red Sea resort, which left at least 88 people dead and more than 100 injured.

Egypt’s tourism minister expressed concern on Sunday that the attacks would hit the $6.6 billion (SFr8.55 billion) tourism industry, the country’s biggest private-sector employer, in the short term.

But Roland Schmid, spokesman for travel group TUI Switzerland, told swissinfo that holidaymakers were unlikely to stay away from Egypt for long.

"Looking at the immediate reaction, I think it might have a short-term effect for Sharm el-Sheikh but not for Egypt in the long-term," he said.

Whereas the Luxor massacre left a deep scar on the nation’s psyche, Schmid said Swiss tourists were reacting differently this time around.

He pointed to the fact that around two-thirds of the 1,000 Swiss in Sharm el-Sheikh had chosen to stay in the resort, spurning the offer of a flight home. A special flight carrying 293 Swiss tourists landed in Zurich on Sunday morning.

Schmid added that TUI had even taken bookings for the Red Sea resort on Saturday, within hours of the attacks.

"Thirty-six Swiss were killed in Luxor and this was a big shock for the country," he said. "But as with bombings in other countries, you always find that the more a nation is touched because of the number of its citizens killed or injured, the stronger the reaction back home."

Luxor massacre

After the Luxor massacre, the Swiss stayed away from Egypt in droves. According to tourism-industry figures, only 31,000 travelled there in 1998 – almost 70,000 less than in 1996.

But since then the number of holidaymakers choosing Egypt as a destination has been steadily increasing.

In 2003 around 100,000 Swiss departed for the beaches of the Red Sea or a cruise along the Nile – back to levels seen prior to the attack at the ancient temple of Hatshepsut.

Psychologist Peter Fässler, who worked with relatives of victims of the Luxor attacks, believes Saturday’s bombings will not have the same effect on the Swiss psyche for two reasons.

"The first is that none of the people who died were Swiss and it does not appear to have been an attack on tourists specifically," he said.

"The second is that after an attack like this people know that security will be stepped up and there is unlikely to be another attack within the next few weeks. After Luxor, no one knew what was going to happen next."

Bombings

He added that while bookings would probably drop in the first instance, many tourists were likely to forget about the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings within a month or two.

"But if there is another attack, say in Cairo, involving foreign tourists then that will probably cause a similar reaction to the one that followed Luxor," warned Fässler, who runs the Winterthur Centre for Crisis Intervention.

The crisis centre dispatched an international care team to Sharm el-Sheikh to help those traumatised by Saturday’s events.

Urs Fehr, spokesman for tour operator Kuoni Switzerland, said it was too early to draw conclusions on the long-term picture. But he echoed the view that there was unlikely to be a repeat of the sharp drop-off in bookings that followed the Luxor massacre.

"We are getting people who are asking to change their reservations to go somewhere else or to go to Egypt at a later date, and we have had some cancellations," said Fehr. "But nothing on the same scale as Luxor."

Kuoni said on Monday that customers who had booked to travel to Sharm el-Sheikh between now and August 31 could cancel or rebook at no financial penalty.

It said it was adopting the new provisions in the light of recommendations from the foreign ministry, advising against travel to Sharm el-Sheikh.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

In brief

Three bomb blasts in Sharm el-Sheikh in the early hours of Saturday morning left at least 88 people dead and more than 100 injured.

An estimated 1,000 Swiss tourists were in the Red Sea resort at the time of the explosions but there have been no reports of casualties among them.

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