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German Tour Firms Evacuate Tourists From Egypt

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German tour operators started bringing hundreds of customers back from Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh Red Sea resort on Thursday after Germany's foreign office advised against travel to the entire Sinai peninsula.

German authorities on Wednesday recommended its citizens refrain from travel to the beach resorts on the peninsula and said those already there should make arrangements with their travel agent to return early.

Alltours said it would bring back 120 people from Sharm el-Sheikh, while TUI Germany and Thomas Cook Germany said they were organizing travel back to Germany for its customers there.

"We want to bring them back by the weekend. They will be refunded for the days of their trip they did not use," a Thomas Cook Germany spokesman said.

Another big German tour operator, DER, said it had booked a plane for Friday morning to bring back all 85 guests from its different tour operator brands that were in Sharm el-Sheikh.

The recent bombing of a coach carrying Korean tourists has led to renewed concerns for tourism in Egypt, an industry which provides a livelihood for millions and the government with much-needed foreign currency.

Germans and Russians are the most numerous visitors to the country, which saw tourism revenue drop 41 percent to USD$5.9 billion last year due to the waves of unrest that have disrupted the country since the Arab Spring uprising in 2011.

The advice from Germany was not equivalent to a full warning that would force all tour companies to repatriate Germans immediately.

For German tourists the resorts of Hurghada and Marsa Alam on Egypt's mainland Red Sea coast, which are not affected by the latest travel advice, are more popular destinations. TUI Germany said 90 percent of its customers in Egypt were in Hurghada.

DER said overall bookings to Egypt were down by 30-40 percent since the start of the Arab Spring, while bookings to Sharm el-Sheikh were down 90 percent, mainly due to its location nearer trouble hotspots.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it was "important" that Russian tourists stay inside tourist areas and refrain from traveling around the country, urging them to avoid big cities and the interior of the Sinai Peninsula in particular, confirming earlier advice.

France and Britain, two other major sources of tourists for Egypt, also advise against travel to the peninsula but have so far exempted Sharm el-Sheikh.

The German tour operators said guests with travel booked over the next few weeks to Sharm el-Sheikh would be offered the chance to switch bookings to another destination or to cancel their trip entirely for free.

TUI Germany, Thomas Cook Germany and DER said the rebooking or cancellation offer was valid until March 14, while Alltours said those with travel booked until the end of March could alter their plans for free.

(Reuters)