As inquiries into the loss of a Cairo-bound EgyptAir Airbus A320 continue, Egypt’s beleaguered tourism industry is bracing for the potential effects of the event.

Inbound tourism to Egypt fell by 6% last year to 9.3 million travellers, according to official figures released by the government’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics.

This is around the levels recorded a decade ago and more than a third down on the number of tourists arriving in 2010.

The Central Bank of Egypt has been supporting workers in the tourism sector with financial initiatives – a scheme which, it says, it will maintain in light of the “continuing vulnerability” of the industry.

EgyptAir has suffered heavily since 2011, as the country was enveloped in political unrest.

Its consolidated profit of E£533 million for 2009-10, a figure in line with previous years, collapsed into losses of more than E£2 billion in 2010-11 and stayed at similar levels for the following three years.

Egypt has just taken over as chair of the executive council of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, and the agency used a high-level meeting in Malaga during May – at which the issue of security was discussed – to encourage tourism to the country.

Egyptian tourism minister Yehia Rashed backed a UNWTO call for lifting of any “unnecessary” travel bans, particularly flight restrictions, pointing out that Egypt had taken “significant positive steps” to address security concerns.

Those concerns had been underscored by the destruction, apparently by sabotage, of a Russian-operated Airbus A321 departing Sharm el-Sheikh in October last year.

The event led to the precautionary suspension of several air services, and a review of airport security across the country.

Egyptian civil aviation minister Sherif Fathi strived to avoid drifting into premature statements during a 19 May briefing on the EgyptAir situation.

“I don’t want to go to speculation and I don’t want to go to assumptions,” he said. “We prefer just to wait until we find the wreckage of the aircraft, identify what happened exactly to the aircraft, find some evidence and then thereafter make our own assumptions about what happened.”

But as he attempted to avoid leaning towards possible technical problems – having mentioned that maintenance procedures would typically be considered in any inquiry – Fathi loosely suggested that, on balance, sabotage was more probable.

“Let’s not try to jump to the side that’s trying to identify this as a technical failure,” he said.

“On the contrary, the situation may point – and I say ‘may’, because I don’t want to go to speculation and I don’t want to go to assumptions, like others – but if you analyse the situation properly, the possibility of having a different action, or having a terror attack, is higher than the possibility of having a technical [problem].”

While a sudden disappearance during cruise is unusual – and characteristic of sabotage – an accident arising from a technical fault, followed by high-altitude upset, has precedent in the loss-of-control accident involving an AirAsia A320 en route to Singapore in December 2014.

Source: Cirium Dashboard