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Hurghada investigations continue
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 30 - 08 - 2018

The recent deaths of a British couple staying at a Hurghada hotel are attracting urgent attention in the tourism sector, with the Ministry of Tourism saying that “according to the preliminary medical report the couple died of natural causes and there are no criminal suspicions surrounding the incident.”
It added that it had joined efforts with the Red Sea governorate, the tourism police and Thomas Cook, the tourism agency concerned, to find out the cause of the deaths. Chairman of the Chamber of Hotels in Hurghada Sayed Al-Dali said that “removing British holidaymakers from the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel and flying them back to the UK on a charter flight was an exaggerated measure because the cause of the deaths was natural. These are deaths that could have happened anywhere and at any time,” he said.
He added that no further cancellations were reported from European travellers. “Occupancy rates in Hurghada hotels exceeded 85 per cent this summer, with the majority of holidaymakers coming from Europe. We hope occupancy rates will rise to 90 to 95 per cent during the winter season. Currently, only 15 per cent of occupants are Egyptian,” Al-Dali said.
“The result of the investigations into the deaths will determine what kind of repercussions to expect. The British Embassy in Egypt is following up on the incident with the prosecutor-general. We are all anxiously waiting for the results,” he added.
Al-Dali believes Thomas Cook will not reduce its operations in Egypt as a result of the incident “because its market in the country is so wide-ranging. Furthermore, it doesn't organise trips for the British solely and has never halted operations in Egypt except in compliance with the British government's decision to stop flights to Sharm El-Sheikh” following the 2015 crash of a flight from the Red Sea resort to Russia.
“Thomas Cook has already made reservations for the winter season in many hotels across Egypt,” Al-Dali said.
“It is too soon to come up with a conclusion since the investigation is still ongoing. Maybe the tourist agency evacuated the travellers quickly because of the safety terms agreed with the insurance company. An insurance company would not want to shoulder more possible costs,” suggested one source at an international tourism agency.
CEO of the Thomas Cook Group Peter Frankhauser said in an interview with the UK news channel ITV that “the company is counting on the Egyptian authorities to properly investigate the deaths of a British couple in the Red Sea. The independent inspectors from the Swiss firm SGS are working with Egyptian officials to get to the bottom of how John and Susan Cooper died.”
“The cause of their death is still unknown, but specialists are testing the food, water and air-conditioning at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel in Hurghada. The results of those tests are expected in around 10 days,” he added.
Frankhauser said that his company would not decide whether to resume operations at the hotel until the cause of death was identified.
“Yesterday night they dropped a bomb on us that we had to leave the hotel today because it is not safe. Two people died of natural causes. Thomas Cook is the only travel agency that has evacuated their people. We want to stay, but we have to leave without any reasonable explanation,” tweeted one guest at the hotel after the incident.
Dieter Geiger, manager of the hotel, told the media that he and his staff were “deeply saddened” by the deaths of the British couple.
“In such circumstances, very little can be said that will help. This makes it even more important to stick to the facts. The doctor's preliminary report indicates that the death was due to natural causes. There are no indications to support allegations of an increased incidence of illness at the hotel. Such rash speculations should be put aside out of respect for the family members of the deceased and for other guests,” he said.
Soon after the death of the Coopers, Red Sea Governor Ahmed Abdallah met with UK reporters, explaining the speed with which the governorate had issued its statement by saying that “the governorate and the Ministry of Tourism's report was preliminary, citing the condition of the deceased as revealed by the health inspector upon his arrival and the health condition of the wife premortem. Regarding the details, the prosecutor-general ordered an autopsy. Samples were sent to forensic labs in Cairo. We are still waiting for the announcement of the cause of death.”
Abdallah told one UK Daily Mail reporter that “Thomas Cook's immediate evacuation of the holidaymakers is probably the result of its attempt to show its deep concern for the safety of its travellers, which explains the exaggerated reaction. Out of 261 guests, 160 holidaymakers refused to leave Hurghada, which indicates the extent to which British tourists trust the safety procedures and services offered.”
He added that in recent years he had met with many groups, including from the UK, who had arrived in the Red Sea resorts to check the area for safety and other issues. The reports were all good, “indicating that the Red Sea resorts, above all Hurghada, are perfectly safe,” he said.
Regarding claims that other hotel guests had fallen ill, Abdallah said there were “registered reports of those who had sought medical help at the hotel last week. Of 1,995 guests at the hotel, 23 people were reported ill. Medical examinations revealed they were suffering from fatigue as a result of staying in the sun for long periods of time. Four British travellers were found to have stomach cramps as a result of changing their diets,” he added.

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