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'The Russians Have All Gone': A321 Crash Hits Sinai Tourism Hard

© AP Photo / Vinciane JacquetAn empty public beach is seen in Namaa Bay, Sharm el-Sheikh.
An empty public beach is seen in Namaa Bay, Sharm el-Sheikh. - Sputnik International
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As the investigation into the downing of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula continues, the cancellation of international flights into Sharm el-Sheikh is taking a major toll on the tourism industry. A number of Egyptian resorts are placing dozens of staffers on “unpaid leave,” and more temporary layoffs could soon follow.

While authorities are still unclear as to what caused the crash of the Airbus 321 jet two weeks ago, Russia and the United Kingdom have restricted air travel to Sharm el-Sheikh out of an abundance of caution.

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But the resort area relies heavily on those tourists, with approximately 80,000 people working in the region’s hospitality industry. As the investigation stretches into its third week, the local economy is beginning to feel the impact.

"I have been told not to come from tomorrow," one luxury hotel employee named Ahmed told Agence France-Presse. "I’ll be called if the situation improves. Nothing is clear."

At Ahmed’s hotel, he says he is one of six who have been given similar instructions, and AFP noted at least four hotels in the Red Sea resort town asking employees to take leave.

"On a normal basis we would be 90% full right now, everyone would be working and everyone would be happy," Amr Darwish, an owner of the Terrazzina beach club, told the BBC.

According to the South Sinai chamber of tourism, roughly 40,000 people could lose their jobs within the coming months if the situation continues, and the flight embargoes are costing Egypt approximately $280 million a month.

The lull also affects a number of foreigners who work in the Sharm tourism sector.

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"Two days back I lost my job," Oxana, a Russian who worked for an Egyptian perfume company, told AFP. "Sixteen of our 20-member sales team have been told to go."

The Egyptian resort business has seen its share of ups and downs in recent years. Political instability following the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak and increased militant activity have discouraged some from visiting the Egyptian coastline. But nothing shook the industry as much as the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 on October 30, which killed all 224 people on board.

"This couldn’t have come at a worse time," Angus Blair, of the economic think tank the Signet Institute, told BBC. "Egypt needs this [resort] economically in terms of employment and foreign exchange revenues."

Still, some hotels are taking the opportunity to revamp their accoutrements.

"This is a blessing in disguise," a general manager of a luxury hotel chain told AFP. "We plan to close two wings of our hotel for renovation, so that when the situation changes, we are ready."

The Egyptian government is currently conducting an international probe into the crash, leading a committee which includes Russia and France. While the US and UK made premature statements about the possibility of a bomb being planted on board the A321, Egypt was quick to urge caution about jumping to conclusions.

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"We do not want to rush the investigation of the Russian plane [crash]," Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi said in a statement. "Egypt will hide nothing, because these are human victims and we value them."

Investigators are currently analyzing the final seconds of the aircraft’s black box recording, and authorities have indicated that concrete results may not be known for months.

"The beach is empty," Sharm tourist Richard Bourne tells BBC. "It was full until a few days ago but the Russians have all gone. I feel so sorry for the people."

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