Uncertainty over Sharm must end, say travel companies
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.