Tourism officials blast Egypt’s new visa restrictions

Two tourism officials have criticized the new government's policy of halting issuing visas for foreign travelers into Egypt.

Amr el-Ezzaby, head of the Tourism Promotion Organization said the new measure will severely harm the tourism industry and will turn Egypt into "a closed country."

"It won't only hurt Egypt's tourism but the image of Egypt as a stable country," el-Ezzaby was quoted as saying by the Middle East Agency on Friday.

On Thursday, a government spokesman said Egypt will require visas from all travelers prior to arriving in the country, ending decade-long unrestricted entry for American and other western visitors, and some other nationals.

Foreigners in Egypt have already begun to face a clamping down on visa restrictions since 25 January, with some reporting that Egyptian officials have begun rejecting a second three-month visa extension for those already in the country and substituting them for one-month extensions only.

Tourists travelling in groups will be exempted from the new regulations.

El-Ezzaby said the new policy will affect those foreigners who have bought apartments in Egypt under government policy to encourage long stays for foreigners in Egypt.

Under the new policy tourists "will have to apply at embassies and consulates for visas," the government spokesman said.

Elhamy el-Zayyat , head of the Tourism Chambers Union said the new measure will "negatively effect" tourism.

He urged the government to rescind the new measure.

He proposed for now the Egyptian Passport and Residency Authority issues visas for foreigners through the internet.

The move appears to be the latest salvo against free entry and residency for foreigners in Egypt following the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Nationals of the Arab Gulf states, Latin America, Japan and other wealthy Asian countries, and Australians are among those affected by the new restrictions.

Egypt’s tourism industry was hit hard by the 25 January uprising, but it has been steadily re-gaining some revenues after improving security especially on its Red Sea resorts.   

Last week, government officials said tourism revenues in 2010-11 were US$10.6 billion compared to $11.6 billion in 2009-10.

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