Friday, 9 September 2011

Egypt's new tourist visa policy raises concern

Egypt's new tourist visa policy raises concern: CAIRO: Tourism officials are concerned with a Cabinet decision to change Egypt’s visa regulations, requiring visitors to obtain visas before arrival.

Before, visitors from Europe, the United States, or Gulf countries were given visas upon entry at the airport; this however, is set to change from now on. Visitors will be required to obtain visas from embassies and consulates abroad.

“I was told by the minister of tourism that this won’t be applied right away,” Elhamy ElZayat, head of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, told Daily News Egypt.

“We are currently trying to find a solution that can appease all sides,” he added.

The new rules will affect citizens from United States, Europe, Australia, Gulf, Africa, Latin America, and Asia, Cabinet spokesman Mohamed Hegazy told The Associated Press.

ElZayat said the move would impact tourists mainly coming to Egypt’s Red Sea resorts, in cities like Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada, because these tourists often use the internet to book their stays.

“There was a very good solution suggested by the tourism minister for the issue and it’s to give out visas via the internet, which will be faster and more convenient for visitors,” he added.

ElZayat believes such a step would help alleviate any losses the new law might incur for Egypt’s tourism sector.

Although Hegazay said the new procedures “might” start next week, he did not give a set date. Hegazy also said the new law would not affect tourist traveling in groups.

Tourists from many states, especially Western countries whose nationals contribute the bulk of Egypt's vital tourism revenues, are still allowed to obtain visas on arrival until the new regulations are in place, AFP reported.

While some may disagree with the law since Egypt’s economy is highly dependent on tourism, others see the move as a symbolic act of “sovereignty.”

“I don’t think anyone will decide not to come just because they have to get a visa. This is a good idea and its good for Egyptians perception to change of their own country,” said Ahmed Hassan, a young Egyptian activist.

“We are a sovereign country, [many] countries require you go through procedures before obtaining a visa, take the US for example.”

But others think it may deter tourists from coming to Egypt at a time when the industry is already struggling.
Before the Cabinet’s decision to enact the visa law, the tourism ministry was working with several countries in order to change the policies to allow them to acquire visas upon arrival.

Egypt’s tourism ministry spokesperson, Omayma El-Husseini, told Daily News Egypt that Kazakhstan, for example, was among these countries that recently were granted this procedure to encourage tourism.

"We are asked for visas everywhere and it is our right to ask for visas. No airport in the world would give me a visa on arrival," Hegazy told AFP.

Egypt's finance minister said in August that tourism was showing signs of recovery and is expected to contribute $10 billion in revenues this year.

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