Egypt stands to lose 2.2 billion Egyptian pounds ($280 million) a month from Britain and Russia's decision to suspend flights after the Russian plane crash in the Sinai Peninsula, Tourism Minister Hesham Zaazou said on Wednesday. Britain stopped flights to Sharm al-Sheikh four days after the passenger plane crashed shortly after taking off on Oct. 31 from the Red Sea resort, pointing to the likelihood that it was brought down by a bomb. All 224 people on board were killed. Several European countries followed, and Russia later suspended flights to all Egyptian airports. Zaazou said Russian and British holidaymakers accounted for two-thirds of tourist traffic to Sharm al-Sheikh, while Russians alone made up half the tourists in Egypt's other main Red Sea destination, Hurghada. Citing what he described as the negative impact of Western media coverage of the plane crash, Zaazou said he planned a $5 million public relations campaign to promote Egypt in Britain and Russia. A senior Russian official has said that Moscow's decision to suspend flights is unlikely to be reversed soon. "It's for a long time. For how long - I cannot really say, but I think that for several months, minimum," Sergei Ivanov, the head of the presidential administration, was quoted as saying by RIA news agency on Tuesday. Ivanov said security needed to be improved not only in Sharm al-Sheikh but also in Hurghada and Cairo - "in those places where Russian planes fly." Zaazou said the government would seek to make up for the loss of international business by encouraging domestic tourism, as well as encouraging Gulf Arab visitors and easing visa requirements for tourists from North Africa.
Only two weeks ago, popular Sharm areas like the Old Market, Naama Bay and Soho Square were teeming after dark, but now only a few holidaymakers can be seen once the sun sets. "Last month, you couldn't walk here. It was packed with people," Essam Shawki, manager of an open air restaurant at Naama Bay, told AFP on a recent night. "Today the street is empty. I've served only four customers in the last six hours." The streets of Naama Bay are brightly lit and loud music blares out from every restaurant. Jewellery shops, leather boutiques and cafes line both sides of the area's main thoroughfare, but there are no customers in sight. Staff waits for hours outside restaurants for customers, without any luck. At some times, the waiters and shopkeepers outnumber the tourists. Sharm el-Sheikh's Old Market, a favorite hangout for tourists, is nearly empty, with shopkeepers complaining of a sharp decline in sales. A shop owner said business had been brisk in October, with sales of about 70,000 Egyptian pounds ($8,700/8,100 euros). "But after the plane crash, I am barely making 300 pounds a day. I won't be able to pay even the monthly rent for this shop." Several tourists told AFP they were sympathetic and feared that many people working in the resort could lose their jobs.