CAIRO: Egypt’s decision to end the visa upon arrival system for individual travelers has drawn sharp criticism among tourism sector employees.
“The decision is impetuous and unjustified and its timing is totally inconvenient,” a tourism manager at an Egyptian travel agency told The Cairo Post Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
The Foreign Ministry announced Monday Egypt would no longer offer visas upon arrival to any non-Egyptian wishing to travel to Egypt for tourism effective May 15, 2015.
“Individual tourists must obtain visas (from the Egyptian Diplomatic Mission) prior to their arrival to Egypt. No visas will be issued upon arrival to the country. Organized tourist groups will be the only exception,” according to the statement.
Most individual clients are from the United States. According to the decision, U.S. citizens will have to physically fly to the Egyptian consulate in New York or the Egyptian embassy in Washington to obtain the visa and this would add to the cost of their trip, the manager said.
The website for the Egyptian embassy, however, does give instructions for mailing in passports to the embassy for processing, and does not say that applicants physically must be present. The cost for American citizens to apply for a visa is $15, and the site says processing takes approximately 10 days.
“The decision will make them refrain from visiting Egypt and think of visiting other countries,” the manager added.
“The Tourism Ministry was not consulted regarding the decision. We do not know the motives beyond it but it will have a negative impact on tourism sector in general and cultural tourism in particular,” Elhamy Zayat, the president of the Egyptian Tourism Federation told The Cairo Post Wednesday.
“The decision does not define ‘tourist groups’ and did not mention the minimum number of travelers in a group. Individual tourists are usually one family and most of them, especially Europeans traveling to Sharm el-Sheikh, decide to travel to Egypt a short time before the trip,” said Zayat, adding that if the Egyptian consulate if far from where they live, “they will probably think of cancelling the whole trip or visiting another touristic destination.”
The decision of tightening of visa rules was issued according to reports prepared by “sovereign bodies,” security sources told al-Masry al-Youm Wednesday.
The sources suggested the decision was issued to “hinder infiltration of political activists to the country and working without a prior permission,” and its goal is to give intelligence services more time to assess individuals who want to visit Egypt, according to the source.
In December, Michele Dunne, a prominent American scholar who had made statements critical of the Egyptian government led by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi was barred from entering Egypt, held in Cairo airport for a few hours before she was put on a flight out of the country.
Mohamed Said, a tour leader who created a website through which he sells sightseeing for travelers to Cairo said that the decision will cause a “sharp decrease” in number of tourists visiting Egypt.
“I have been customizing tour packages for travelers through the internet for over 10 years. Over 95 percent of my clients were getting their visas upon arrival to Cairo airport. The decision is not far. If the country wants to control activists coming to Egypt, it has to find another way,” Said said.