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Tour Operators Say Red Sea Still On Itinerary

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At least one French tour operator has postponed trips to Egypt, while German and Swiss firms halted visits to Cairo as protests erupted following the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

Yet UK and German operators said it was business as usual in the country, as tourists were mainly heading for the Red Sea area, miles away from areas of unrest such as Cairo and Alexandria.

The British and German foreign ministries have advised against all non-essential travel to Egypt, apart from to popular Red Sea resorts such as Sharm el Sheikh, while the French authorities have issued a travel warning for all of Egypt.

"We are giving our members the travel guidelines of the French foreign ministry," said Jean-Marc Roze, head of the French travel agencies federation (SNAV). "We are monitoring a situation that may evolve rapidly."

Thomas Cook France said it was offering its 130 clients already in the Arab country the option to shorten their stay and had postponed trips to Egypt until July 14.

"Of course we can expect that there will be an impact, certainly with what's happening this week," said John Kester, coordinator for market trends at the United Nations' World Tourism Organization.

"Tourism is a... very important sector for the economy, so it's in their interests to return to normal as quickly as possible," Kester said.

Egypt received 14 million international tourists in 2010, before the revolt that led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Western Europeans are the largest group, followed by eastern Europeans and tourists from the Middle East.

That figure fell to 9.5 million in 2011, before recovering to 11.2 million in 2012. In the first five months of 2013, tourist numbers were up 12 percent year-on-year.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

Europe's largest hotel group Accor, which has 18 hotels in Egypt, and Britain's Intercontinental Group, said they were monitoring the situation closely.

"The recent unrest in Egypt has not directly affected... operations in our nine hotels across the country, all of which remain open," said Pascal Gauvin, InterContinental's chief operating officer for India, the Middle East and Africa.

French carrier Air France said it was also business as usual for its daily flight to Cairo, while British Airways and easyJet said they had seen no real impact and were following guidance from the UK Foreign Office.

A spokesman for Lufthansa, which flies to Cairo, said: "In the coming days we are really full because it's the peak season. Medium-term there's a slight decline in bookings."

Thomas Cook in the UK and French operator Club Med said tourists felt secure in resorts near the Red Sea.

In Germany, TUI Deutschland, Thomas Cook and DER Touristik also said events had not hit bookings as their customers were booked mostly into Red Sea resorts.

However, German tour operators have stopped offering trips to Cairo until July 12.

Swiss travel services group Kuoni said it was not offering trips to Cairo at the moment and advised customers against visiting the Egyptian capital or other large cities.

The company said it had 600 clients at Red Sea resorts, mainly in the Hurghada region, and so far had not received any cancellations from its clients in Egypt or from its markets such as Scandinavia and Switzerland.

(Reuters)

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