Departing the Red Sea

Egypt's resorts are open but empty following the nation's civil strife, writes Stuart Forster.

Despite the civil unrest and the ousting of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, hoteliers in Egypt's Red Sea resorts say they are open for business.

''I believe very much that the situation is not going to last for long,'' the chairman of the Savoy Group, Emad Aziz, says. ''Here in Sharm we are on a different continent; we're not in Africa. We are 550 kilometres from Cairo and the only connection is one tunnel under the Suez Canal. You could be in a different country.

''Everybody here is here for the tourism. Tourism is our livelihood. If there is no tourism there is no life.''

Hotel occupancy rates in the coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh, on the Sinai Peninsula, have dropped below 20 per cent.

The demonstrations on Tahrir Square in Cairo and unrest in several of Egypt's major cities have prompted many tourists and tour operators to cancel bookings. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recommends that Australians ''reconsider your need to travel to Egypt because of the unsettled security situation and the high risk of terrorist attack''.

Tourists visiting Sharm el-Sheikh and other Red Sea destinations have experienced little in the way of disruptions, apart from the temporary closure of banks and ATMs, which reopened on February 7.

The midnight to 6am curfew, which is being applied elsewhere in Egypt, does not apply at Red Sea resorts.

However, travel inland to St Catherine's Monastery and desert areas of South Sinai is dependent on the security situation and cancellations are possible.

''Red Sea areas are safe and secure,'' Hamada Abou El-Enin, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Hilton's Sharm Dreams Resort and Spa, says. ''This is a storm and we have to wait.''

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Early estimates suggest the unrest has cost Egypt's tourism industry $US1.1 billion since January 25. The resorts along the Red Sea comprise 40 per cent of that industry.

The assistant secretary general of the governorate of South Sinai, General Ahmed Saleh Al Edkawy, is involved in talks with stakeholders in the region's tourism industry.

''The tourism industry may face some disturbances but it will never die,'' he says.

''We will get back to where we were. Sharm el-Sheikh is a big resort and not a city; the changes will be limited.''

Yet hotel and resort owners are already looking to cut costs and staff are being sent on leave.

''My main concern is the labour here,'' Al Edkawy says. ''I don't want to lose them … [staff] have experience and know how to deal with tourists.''

The hoteliers are considering the possibility of promoting Sharm el-Sheikh as a destination distinct from Egypt.

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