Egypt working to lure new tourists after Russians, Ukrainians cut off

CAIRO, March 9 (Reuters) - Egypt is exploring new ways to lure tourists after conflict cut off Russia and Ukraine, two of its most lucrative markets, including possibly bringing Russians through third countries if sanctions allowed, its deputy tourism minister said.

“Those were our two biggest markets with no doubt, and both are hit,” Ghada Shalaby said. “Of course, it is a major loss” of revenue.

Egypt has been working at increasing tourists from Western Europe, including Britain, Germany, Spain, France and Italy, as well as Hungary and Gulf Arab countries, especially ahead of Ramadan and Easter next month, she told Reuters.

One concern is the increase in fuel prices since Russian troops entered Ukraine on Feb. 24, making flights and tourism packages more expensive, Shalaby said.

Tourism earned Egypt $2.8 billion in the three months to end-September, the most recent figure available, according central bank data. Egypt does not release figures for the number of tourists or the amount of revenue earned from individual countries.

One option to attract Russians might be to allow them to come via Turkey, Shalaby said.

“That’s one of the options that we’re looking at, but it’s not the only one. Our colleagues at civil aviation are studying all the opportunities towards this sanctions situation, and we’re looking to hear some positive news.”

In the meantime Egypt has been receiving empty flights from Russia to bring home Russian tourists stuck in Egypt.

It has also been offering Ukrainians stranded in Egypt passage to Poland, Hungary or countries that have opened their borders to Ukrainians. Some of these were on Egyptian flights headed to countries bordering Ukraine to pick up Egyptian students who had fled from the conflict.

Up to 20,000 Ukrainian tourists in Egypt had been stranded by the conflict, mostly at resorts on the Red Sea, Ukraine’s ambassador to Cairo said last week. (Reporting by Patrick Werr; Editing by Alex Richardson)