- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 27, 2005

CAIRO — A month ago, terrorist bombings blasted the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, killing at least 64 persons, devastating a four-star hotel and sending hundreds of tourists fleeing on the next plane home.

But now visitors are returning to Sharm, and Egypt’s tourist industry — the country’s No. 1 source of foreign currency — has not collapsed as it did in 1997 when Islamic terrorists fatally shot 58 persons at a Pharaonic temple in the southern town of Luxor.

“We went overnight from 100 percent [occupancy] to 50 percent,” said Werner Gessner, the general manager of the Sonesta Beach Resort and Casino, which has now filled 87 percent of its 520 rooms. “We have really bounced back. It is remarkable that we’re recouping so quickly.”

Tour operators in Italy, Britain and France told the Associated Press their nationals were now flying to Egypt at full strength or very nearly so.

For the 10 days following the attacks, Sharm hotels averaged only 30 percent occupancy, said Tourism Ministry spokeswoman Hala el Khatib. Now they are running at 62 percent occupancy on average.

In part, the favorable numbers are due to deals that Sharm hotels and other outlets quickly started offering after the attacks. But another reason is simply that, with terrorists attacking in so many places, tourists have become less fearful.

“It’s not like it was 10 years ago when 100 percent of people would have canceled,” said Christian Rochette of the major operator Nouvelles FrontieresRochette in Paris. “Travelers now know that Paris or London are as dangerous as anywhere else.”

In Rome, Veronica Cappennani, a spokeswoman for the Viaggi del Ventaglio tour operator, agreed. “Italians are not deterred because there have been so many attacks worldwide that they’re getting used to it,” she said.

After the 1997 attack in Luxor, it took tourists two years to return to Egypt in their pre-massacre numbers.

So the Sharm bombings on July 23 — in the high season for the resort — raised the specter of a similar setback for the millions of Egyptians whose incomes depend on tourism directly and indirectly.

Sharm and the smaller resorts of south Sinai account for 25 percent of Egypt’s hotel rooms, and they draw a quarter of the annual number of tourists.

Italy had initially cautioned its citizens about traveling to Egypt, which added to the gloom in Sharm as Italians traditionally dominate the scene in July and August. But Rome withdrew the warning.

And by Aug. 13, the number of Italians arriving in Egypt exceeded the number departing for the first time since the attacks, the head of the Egyptian Tourism Federation El-Hamy el-Zayat said.

A spokeswoman for travel agency Thomas Cook said the company received only a handful of cancellations for Egypt, and bookings were now back to normal.

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