DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Egypt's tourism levels are still around a third of what they once were and, despite security concerns, Egypt's tourism minister on Monday insisted the country's popular Red Sea resorts and Ancient Egyptian sites are a safe choice for travelers.
"We are saying that the tourism sector is safe, the airports are secure, the hotels are secure," Mohamed Yehia Rashed said, adding that there have not been security breaches at tourist sites.
He said Germany represents the largest visitor market, particularly to Red Sea diving spots around Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh, followed by travelers from Saudi Arabia.
While he declined to give tourism figures for the first quarter of 2017, the ministry says that tourism from Arab countries represented around 36 percent of total traffic to Egypt last year. More than half-a-million tourists from Saudi Arabia visited Egypt in 2016, followed by Jordan with 180,000 visitors.
Before Egypt's 2011 uprising, Italy, the UK and Russia were Egypt's top markets, in addition to Germany. The uprising, however, decimated Egypt's multibillion dollar tourism industry, which is a vital pillar of the country's economy and employs millions of people.
The year before the upheaval, nearly 15 million tourists visited Egypt. Last year, the figure was 5.3 million tourists, according to Chairman of Egypt's Tourism Authority Hicham al-Demairi.
Both officials spoke to The Associated Press at the Arabian Travel Market convention in Dubai, where Egypt had a large booth advertising its many destinations, hotels and attractions.
Russia, however, continues to ban all flights to Egypt and Egypt's national carrier is still barred from flying to Russia following the downing of a Russian passenger jetliner in the Sinai Peninsula in 2015 that killed all 224 aboard. A Sinai-based Islamic Stage group affiliate claimed it was behind the incident and Russia says an explosive device was the cause, though the investigation has not yet formally concluded.
Egypt's currency has also plunged from around 5 pounds to the dollar before the uprising to 18 pounds to the dollar. This, however, has made travel to Egypt more affordable for many tourists, al-Demairi said.
He said Egypt is aiming to draw between 7 and 10 million tourists in 2017. Rather than rely on traditional Western European markets, which comprise the bulk of all tourists to Egypt, al-Demairi said the country is working on new strategies that target Latin American, Eastern European and Asian travelers.
"We don't want to only depend on coastal and cultural tourism," he said, referring to tourists who visit Egypt's pristine beaches and Ancient Egyptian sites in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan.