By Mahmoud Salama
Sharm el-Sheikh: On Sharm el-Sheikh’s sandy beaches many of the sun loungers lie empty.
At a central promenade packed with shops, cafés and nightclubs, crowds are thinner than usual.
The resort on the southern tip of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is reeling from the impact of the war in Ukraine, which has seen Ukrainians and Russians – previously among the town’s top visitors – virtually disappear, tourism sector workers say.
Their absence has delivered the latest in a series of shocks to a sector that accounts for up to 15% of gross domestic product and generates sorely needed foreign currency.
“Months ago, we were catching our breath after coronavirus hit and activity was beginning to recover, but we got out of the frying pan into the fire,” said the owner of a small souvenir shop on the main promenade in Sharm el-Sheikh’s Naama Bay who gave his name as Ashraf, adding that he’d lost about two-thirds of his business.
Egypt’s tourism revenues dipped sharply during the Covid-19 pandemic, recovering to nearly $12 billion in 2021, according to central bank data.
The sector had received a boost when Russia resumed direct flights to Sharm el-Sheikh and fellow Red Sea resort Hurghada in August 2021, six years after the crash of a passenger jet carrying Russian tourists led to their suspension.
Though no updated data is available for this year, a briefing by the cabinet last month warned of a major hit to foreign currency income from tourism.
The government, which is also struggling with rising wheat and oil import bills, recently revised its growth forecast for the financial year ending this month down to 5.5%, and for 2022/23 to 4.5%.
Egypt’s tourism ministry did not respond to requests for comment.