Photo taken on Sept. 23, 2018 shows the view of El Gouna, Hurghada, Egypt. Restaurants, cafe shops and hotels in Egypt's Red Sea resort town of El Gouna bustled with tourists and guests, as the second El Gouna Film Festival (GFF) kicked off on Sept. 20. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)
by Ahmed Shafiq
HURGHADA, Egypt, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- Restaurants, cafe shops and hotels in Egypt's Red Sea resort town of El Gouna bustled with tourists and guests, as the second El Gouna Film Festival (GFF) kicked off on Sept. 20.
"There is a notable difference of tourists' turnout before, during and after the film festival," Nader Hatem, a manager of a restaurant in El Gouna, told Xinhua. "The time of the festival has become a season for us."
Hatem, whose restaurant serves Egyptian food, said the festival, first launched in 2017, has well promoted tourism in El Gouna, a famous classy attraction in Egypt's Hurghada.
"In addition to the festival's team, it also attracts thousands of visitors and guests who come from different countries as well as other Egyptian cities," Hatem said as he watched a group of young people stepping into his restaurant.
He added that the restaurant sometimes receives no customers at all, "but it is sometimes fully booked during the festival."
The second GFF hosted over 400 film celebrities and filmmakers and is set to screen dozens of movies from over 30 countries.
The festival, which will run until Sept. 28, will screen 80 films, including 11 world premieres, and feature a multitude of workshops and panels.
"This festival is not important for cinema industry, but it might be more important for business owners in El Gouna who have been suffering recession for a long period of time," Hatem said.
Egyptian tourism sector, a major source of national income and foreign currency, has witnessed recession over the past seven years.
The number of tourists to Egypt declined from 14.7 million in 2010 to about 8 million in 2017 due to political instability and relevant security challenges, including two mass uprisings that toppled two presidents, forcing several countries to ban their citizens from traveling to Egypt for safety reasons.
Tourism in Egypt was further hit with a heavy blow following the Russian airplane crash in North Sinai in October 2015, after which Russia suspended its direct flights to the country and some other nations including Britain suspended flights to Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh.
However, a boom in the sector is expected after Russia and Egypt resumed direct flights between the two countries in April.
El Gouna is a favorable attraction to foreign and Egyptian tourists for its clean air and sunny sandy beaches.
The town, founded by the billionaire Samih Sawiris more than two decades ago, is located just north of Hurghada on the west coast of the Red Sea.
The town is easily accessed from Europe via the nearby Hurghada International Airport and boasts superb infrastructure and excellent services as well as natural beaches and year-round sunshine.
The film festival, which was also co-founded by Sawiris and his business tycoon brother Nagib Sawiris, breathed life again into the town which has always been an example of modernity and beauty.
Egyptian actress and CEO of the festival Bushra told Xinhua that the gala was not only launched for cinematic or cultural reasons, but also to promote tourism in El Gouna in particular and in Egypt in general.
"El Gouna is a very spectacular destination and we would like to attract people from all over the world to be here ... of course there is a touristic side of the festival," she said.
She said one of the messages of the festival is that Egypt is a civilized country with peaceful people who appreciate cinema, culture art and diversity.
"That is what El Gouna is all about ... It is a place that respects diversity and it is a land of acceptance, it welcomes everyone and it is very safe," she stressed.
In the resort's downtown, dining places, cafe shops and bazaars were crowded with guests and shoppers. The majority of them came for the film festival.
Joseph Samy, owner of a bazaar, said the downtown was almost deserted in the past few months, adding that the film festival revives the business in the town.
"Business dwindled recently as the number of tourists declined in the past year," Samy told Xinhua. "But more people are visiting now thanks to the film festival which promoted the town internationally."
The young man said business has remarkably improved since the first film festival was launched in 2017.
"I hope that the festival will be held every year ... it keeps the business going," he added.