Russian tourists flock back to Egypt’s Red Sea
Published: Nov 03, 2021 05:38 PM
Visitors from Russia arrive in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Hurghada on Monday. Photo: AFP

Visitors from Russia arrive in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Hurghada on Monday. Photo: AFP

Mussa al-Nahas sat outside his fragrance and spice shop overlooking the Red Sea beaming at the sight of Russian tourists, who are beginning to flood back to Sharm el-Sheikh six years after a terror attack.

"Today is much, much better than three or four months ago because the Russians are back," he told AFP.

"The return of Russian flights has spurred other countries to also open up," he added.

Nahas, 42, has spent half of his life in the idyllic, sun-drenched Red Sea resort which was badly hit economically after the 2015 downing of a Metrojet plane that killed 224 mostly ­Russian passengers.

The attack was claimed by the so-called Islamic State jihadist group, which has a presence in the restive North Sinai region. 

In the wake of the crash, Russia instituted a blanket ban on all flights to the Red Sea from 2015, and even to Cairo for a few weeks.

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was a double blow driving away the remaining tourists - the country's lifeline.

Tourism represents about 10 percent of the GDP of Egypt where a third of the 100 million-strong population lives below the poverty line.

"We used to say that Sharm el-Sheikh had become a ghost town," said Nahas.

But in August, the fortunes of Sharm - as it is affectionately known - started to look up when the first plane from Moscow touched back down at the local airport.

After years of diplomacy, the long-running ban was finally lifted.

Tour guide Abdelqader Abdel-Rahman, 30, who was preparing to take a group of Hungarian adventurers on a desert safari on quad bikes, was delighted to see the tourists milling around town.

"Before 2015, there were about 120-150 flights coming from Russia weekly... We hope that things go back to what they used to be," he told AFP.

Currently, there are about 20 flights from Russia landing in Sharm every week.

Capitalizing on the appetite for tourism after months of global lockdowns, Egypt's tourism ministry has waived visa fees for 28 countries including many from eastern Europe.

In April, the country welcomed half a million tourists alone, twice as many as January, according to official figures.

"Since Russian planes have started coming back, the town has begun moving," Abdel-­Rahman said. 

"Lots of people have gone back to their old jobs and have opened up their bazaars and restaurants again."