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Russians still go to Egypt on vacation, realizing this may end soon

August 16, 2013, 18:27 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, August 16 (Itar-Tass) - The Russian national “I couldn’t care less” attitude has once again clearly manifested itself during the events in Egypt. This country - a favourite holiday destination among Russians for its price and quality criteria - this year has let them down, making even absolutely indifferent to politics people follow news reports from Egypt.

Nevertheless, the horrible for Europeans TV news stories from Cairo and other cities of the country could not frighten Russians, at least not all of them.

Foreign Ministry officials also could not give a definite answer whether there was a threat to life of tourists in the country's resorts. The ministry advised tourists vacationing in Egypt “to refrain from travelling outside the resort zones and not to visit Cairo and other large cities.” The Foreign Ministry advised those who are only going to travel to Egypt to cancel their trips. And those who have already bought travel packages to Egypt, but for known reasons don’t want to travel there, are entitled to full refund. As for the tourists who are staying in the riot-hit country, they have the right to free evacuation.

Meanwhile, the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) is trying to prevent the departure of Russian tourists to Egypt. The issue of Russian citizens’ evacuation from Egypt has not been raised yet, although some European countries (Finland, for instance) is already evacuating its tourists from this North African country.

The situation in Egypt sharply deteriorated two days ago when the military decided to use force to disperse the supporters of President Mohamed Morsi who was overthrown in early July. Street fighting started in Cairo, as a result of which several hundred people were killed. The riots have also spread to the usually calm tourist destination Hurghada where casualties have also been reported.

Despite the recent news from Egypt, planes with Russian tourists continue to fly to that country. There have been no cases of mass refusal to travel there so far. Spokeswoman for the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism Irina Shchegolkova told the Novye Izvestia daily that there are about 50 thousand Russian citizens in Egypt now whose safety is at risk, because the fighting has already reached some resort areas.

The Russian Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsiya) told the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper that passengers have already started to return en masse their plane tickets to Egypt. Air carriers have either to cancel the flights, including charter ones, or to combine several flights into one. According to the agency, of 300 passengers, no more than 20 to 30 people who booked the same flight risk to travel to Egypt.

As for the people who are already vacationing in Egypt and want to leave the country ahead of time in order to avoid putting themselves in danger, they can contact their tour operator to be sent home, ATOR Executive Director Maya Lomidze told the Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily. However, it’s most likely that they will be able to get a refund for the incompletely provided service only through court action.

The ATOR intends to request the Federal Air Transport Agency and the Ministry of Transport of Russia to restrict flights to Egypt. According to Maya Lomidze, there is a legal problem: tour operators have been recommended to suspend the sale of tours, and there are no prohibitions and restrictions on flights for the airlines. “Airlines have the right to demand money from tour operators - it’s a legal case for which tour operators have to pay,” she said.

On Thursday, the Federal Agency for Tourism issued a recommendation to Russian tour operators and travel agents to suspend the promotion and sale of travel packages, as well as individual travels to Egypt until the situation in the country returns back to normal.

According to the document, the Russian tourists who are staying in Egypt should take all necessary measures to ensure personal safety; to pay careful attention to caution and wariness.

They are advised against leaving the territory of the hotel resorts and other places of temporary stay (accommodation), except in cases of transfer to the airport of departure organised by tour operators.

In the meantime, Russian officials do not consider the introduction of a state of emergency in Egypt as a reason for the evacuation of Russian tourists from the country and have not even banned their travel there, as it was during the “Arab Spring” events in 2011. Travel agencies have only been advised to minimise the sale of tours to Egyptian resorts and persuade the customers out of staying in Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh. However, the tourist flow to Egypt has already dwindled by 30-40 percent.

There would be no evacuation of Russians from Egypt, officials decided. Representatives of the Foreign Ministry could not give a definite answer whether there is a threat to the life of tourists at the resorts, Director General of the NTK Intourist company Viktor Topolkarayev who attended the meeting, said. Another participant in the meeting said that the decision on the evacuation is taken at a “higher level” and, in contrast to 2011, no instruction to evacuate tourists has been given.

At a meeting on Thursday, representatives of the Foreign Ministry just advised the tour operators “to reduce the sale of tours to Egypt.”

It is really worth to postpone tourist trips, but the confrontation in Egypt generally does not have the nature of a large-scale military coup, Boris Dolgov, a senior fellow at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) told the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper. He added that the current confrontation would most likely end with the defeat of the Islamists, as the military are supported by the general public, which is forming numerous groups of vigilantes. However, the clashes may continue yet for a long time, the expert warns. Because after Coptic Christian churches were set ablaze in the country, the conflict started to acquire an interethnic nature.

“In any case, there is little doubt that Egypt seriously and for the long haul is ceasing to be a place where reasonable people should go on vacation,” he concluded.