Sharm el-Sheikh flight ban decision urged by travel firms

Empty sun loungers on a beach in the Sharm el-Sheikh resort Image copyright AFP

The government has been urged to set a date for the resumption of UK flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, one year after they were suspended over terrorism fears.

The flight ban to the Egyptian Red Sea resort followed the suspected bombing of a Russian airliner on 31 October 2015, killing all 224 people on board.

A group of more than 30 travel firms is calling for a decision on when direct flights from the UK can resume.

The government said British nationals' security was its "top priority".

Sharm el-Sheikh previously attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors from the UK each year, making it an important resort for airlines and holiday companies,

But flights from the UK to the airport were suspended on 4 November last year, and the Foreign Office continues to advise "against all but essential travel by air to or from Sharm el-Sheikh".

Between January and September 2015, Egypt hosted 728,942 British travellers. Numbers for the same period in 2016 dropped 70%, to 172,018 UK visitors.

More than 30 travel companies including TUI Group, Saga Holidays and Expedia have formed a partnership - The Travel Industry Egypt Advisory Group - to work with the Egyptian tourist office in London and lobby the UK government for a decision.

They fear that if the uncertainty is not ended soon, it will be too late to include the destination in their winter 2016/17 programmes.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A year on, tourism in Sharm el-Sheikh shows little sign of recovery

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 already operating direct flights to other airports in Egypt."

UK holidaymakers heading to Sharm el-Sheikh are currently forced either to take multiple flights or book a place on a ferry from the Red Sea resort of Hurghada. Travel insurance for UK tourists remains valid in the resort itself, but not for Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

Last week Belgian airline Jetairfly became the latest operator to announce that it would resume flights. The German government lifted its flight ban earlier this year, and in September Turkish Airlines recommenced flights from Istanbul.

Some UK holidaymakers are taking advantage of these flights. Peter and Julie Gallagher from Halifax returned from Sharm el-Sheikh 10 days ago after travelling via Istanbul. They've visited Sharm el-Sheikh at least once a year for the last five years, staying at the resort's Savoy hotel.

Julie said: "The security at the airport is very much improved. It's probably a little over the top if anything. We cannot understand why the ban is in place.

"We had an amazing holiday even though the resort is struggling and they don't deserve this."

Her husband Peter described it as as "an ideal holiday".

He said: "We were due to go in early November last year and that was stopped [because of the suspected bombing of a Russian airliner]. We tried again in December, then in February. We just kept booking with our travel agent.

"We always stay in the same hotel. The manager told us that 80 hotels have been closed down."

'Very disappointing'

The Egyptian State Tourist Office said it was "time for the British government to make a decision before the crucial winter holiday season."

Ms Azaizi added: "No other country apart from Russia still has a 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."

A statement from the Department of Transport said: "The security of British nationals is our top priority, and we took the decision to suspend flights from Sharm el-Sheikh in November last year to protect the travelling public.

"We keep aviation security under constant review."

On Wednesday Monarch announced that, "with no indication from the government as to when the airport will re-open to flights from the UK", it was cancelling all flight and holiday bookings to the resort "for the foreseeable future".

Chief executive Andrew Swaffield said: "Much hard work has been done by the UK and Egyptian governments, along with the travel industry, to improve safety measures at Sharm el-Sheikh airport and it is very disappointing that it remains closed."

Airlines including Egyptair, British Airways, Easyjet, Thomson and Thomas Cook are still flying from the UK to other parts of Egypt.

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