Un­cer­tainty over Sharm must end, say travel com­pa­nies

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News of the travel in­dus­try’s de­sire to get flights run­ning to Sharm el Sheikh again, the Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year re­sults and a new Bri­tish free­d­iv­ing record.

More than 30 travel busi­nesses rep­re­sent­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of Bri­tish trav­ellers at­tended a meet­ing with the all-party par­lia­men­tary group on Egypt in the House of Com­mons and House of Lords to ex­plain the neg­a­tive im­pact that the cur­rent flight ban to Sharm El Sheikh is hav­ing on their busi­nesses and to seek sup­port for a swift govern­ment de­ci­sion.

The travel busi­nesses in at­ten­dance in­cluded air­lines, tour op­er­a­tors, hote­liers and Nile cruise com­pa­nies which have now joined forces to cre­ate the Travel In­dus­try Egypt Ad­vi­sory Group work­ing with the Egyp­tian Tourist Of­fice in Lon­don. Group mem­bers will meet reg­u­larly to build travel and govern­ment re­la­tions and in­clude TUI Group, Monarch Group, Egyptair, Dis­cover Egypt, Egyp­tian Ex­pe­ri­ence, Fleet­way Hol­i­days, Sharm Di­rect, Hol­i­days De­sign­ers, Scuba Travel, Or­bital Travel, The Holiday Place, Travel Repub­lic, Soli­man Travel, Holiday Gems, Saga Hol­i­days, Cy­plon Hol­i­days, Cox & Kings Travel, Oonas Divers, Ex­pe­dia, No­ble Cale­do­nia, Kuoni/voy­ages Jules Verne, Mo­saic Hol­i­days and Red Sea Hol­i­days.

Mem­bers of the new Travel In­dus­try Egypt Ad­vi­sory Group told par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and Lords that the nearly year-long ban on flights to Sharm El Sheik air­port (pic­tured above) is hav­ing a se­ri­ous im­pact on their busi­nesses. One op­er­a­tor said he was now sell­ing as much in one year as he used to sell in a week to the des­ti­na­tion. Oth­ers ex­pressed frus­tra­tion that Bri­tish busi­nesses are be­ing pe­nalised com­pared to the Ger­man and other Euro­pean com­pa­nies which are now able to fly back into Sharm El

Sheikh. The del­e­ga­tion ex­plained that For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Ad­vice has af­fected the en­tire coun­try’s rep­u­ta­tion be­cause trav­ellers are con­fused about whether they can travel to Egypt and where they can go. The meet­ing also high­lighted that un­cer­tainty over when the ban will be changed is caus­ing con­cern be­cause air­lines have to plan their sched­ules at least four months be­fore de­par­ture. If a de­ci­sion on the flight ban is not taken in the next two weeks many air­lines will miss the op­por­tu­nity to re­turn to Sharm el Sheikh for win­ter 2016/17.

Lord Stone wel­comed the travel in­dus­try group and in­tro­duced the meet­ing by de­scrib­ing how rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the all-party par­lia­men­tary group had re­cently vis­ited Sharm el Sheikh and found the re­sort to be both peace­ful and wel­com­ing. Lord Stone con­firmed he has writ­ten to the UK govern­ment re­quest­ing them to fix a date for the lift­ing of the ban.

Sir Ger­ald Howarth MP, chair of the all-party par­lia­men­tary group on Egypt, also com­mented on the large con­tin­gent at­tend­ing the meet­ing and said this was clearly a sign of the pres­sure fac­ing the travel in­dus­try. He ad­vised travel com­pa­nies to speak up about the im­pact the ban was hav­ing on their busi­nesses, to write to their lo­cal MPS and to com­mu­ni­cate clearly what needs to be done. Sir Howarth told the UK group of travel com­pa­nies that, dur­ing his three vis­its to Egypt this year he had met rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Depart­ment for Trans­port who had told him that they felt the con­di­tions had been met to en­able flights to re­sume. Sir Howarth has writ­ten to Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May ask­ing for a swift de­ci­sion on the mat­ter.

Lord Dear has asked the govern­ment what ar­range­ments have been made to as­sess the im­pact of the ban on Bri­tish travel busi­nesses.

Prior to the meet­ing at the House of Lords, travel in­dus­try del­e­gates at­tended a pri­vate brief­ing at the res­i­dence of H.E. Am­bas­sador Nasser Kamel. He ex­plained that Egypt has worked closely with Bri­tish avi­a­tion se­cu­rity ex­perts from the Depart­ment of Trans­port to im­ple­ment a joint ac­tion plan to up­grade se­cu­rity in all Egypt air­ports.

The lead­ing Bri­tish se­cu­rity firm Con­trol Risks has as­sessed se­cu­rity mea­sures and made rec­om­men­da­tions which have been fully im­ple­mented by the Egyp­tian govern­ment. Lead­ing se­cu­rity firms have been ap­pointed to de­liver an avi­a­tion se­cu­rity pro­gramme which in­cludes re­cruit­ing and train­ing up to 7000 staff at air­ports across Egypt. These firms are also ad­vis­ing Egypt’s lead­ing pri­vate se­cu­rity firm, Fal­con Group In­ter­na­tional, who have been tasked by the Egyp­tian Min­istry of Civil Avi­a­tion to pro­vide long-term, sus­tain­able, high-level se­cu­rity at all Egyp­tian air­ports. In ad­di­tion the Egyp­tian govern­ment has in­de­pen­dently al­lo­cated USD$26 mil­lion to en­hance and im­prove air­port se­cu­rity. HE Am­bas­sador Kamel said: “The safety and se­cu­rity of our ci­ti­zens and vis­i­tors is paramount”.

Mr Khaled Fouda, Gov­er­nor of South Si­nai, who wel­comed the par­lia­men­tary group and showed them all the up­grades and fa­cil­i­ties in Sharm EL Sheikh air­port ad­vised: “We be­lieve we have done ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble and more to de­liver world-class and se­cure air­ports. While Ger­many has taken a de­ci­sion to re­sume flights on the ba­sis of that work, the Bri­tish govern­ment still hasn’t. We have to ask the Bri­tish govern­ment to be clear and let us know if more needs to be done, or to lift the ban in line with the rest of Europe.”

Mr Samir Takla, ad­vi­sor to the all-party par­lia­men­tary group on Egypt said: “We ap­pre­ci­ate the in­put of the Bri­tish travel in­dus­try in this dis­cus­sion. It is clear that it is now time for there to be a swift de­ci­sion from the Bri­tish govern­ment for the com­mence­ment of the flights”

Rasha Aza­izi, di­rec­tor of the Egyp­tian State Tourist Of­fice in Lon­don, said: “This long term ban on flights to Sharm El Sheikh is now af­fect­ing many UK travel busi­nesses as well as air­lines and is caus­ing deep con­sumer con­fu­sion. The For­eign and Com­mon­wealth ad­vice is cur­rently that it is safe to visit Sharm El Sheikh but not to go through the air­port. That’s given peo­ple the im­pres­sion that they can’t visit Egypt when in fact Bri­tish Air­ways, easy­jet, Thomas Cook, Thom­son and Egyptair are all al­ready op­er­at­ing di­rect flights to other air­ports in Egypt. For ex­am­ple a new di­rect flight from Heathrow to Luxor was launched just this month.

“No other coun­try apart from Rus­sia still has a flight ban on flights to Sharm El Sheikh, but the UK govern­ment has still not yet made a de­ci­sion. We have been led to un­der­stand that the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice and Depart­ment of Trans­port are all now happy with the mea­sures put in place fol­low­ing strin­gent se­cu­rity re­views. We truly feel it’s time for the Bri­tish govern­ment to make a de­ci­sion be­fore the cru­cial win­ter holiday sea­son.”

The Travel In­dus­try Egypt Ad­vi­sory Group will be hold­ing reg­u­lar meet­ings to dis­cuss how the in­dus­try can work co­op­er­a­tively to­gether to present their case to par­lia­ment and to share in­sight and guid­ance on sup­port­ing the re­cov­ery of tourism to Egypt.

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