DUBAI (Reuters) - A series of major discoveries of ancient relics in Egypt is boosting the country's image and reviving the interest of foreign travelers, its tourism minister said on Tuesday.
The largest Arab country's tourism industry, a crucial source of hard currency, was wrecked by years of political turmoil after the 2011 popular uprising, and an increase in deadly Islamist violence continues to deter visitors.
But Tourism Minister Yehia Rashed told Reuters the picture was brightening thanks to a number of significant archaeological finds in Egypt including the unearthing this month of the tomb of a nobleman from more than 3,000 years ago.
"It has improved [our] image, improved the curiosity, you know the culture business is helping out the overview of Egypt," Rashed said in an interview in Dubai.
"We're hoping to announce many discoveries as we go on."
The latest Islamic State militant attack - bombings at two Christian Coptic churches in Egypt - killed 45 people earlier this month but Rashed said, "What [has] happened in Egypt is no different to what happened in London downtown, what happened in Paris downtown, these things happen.
"I think it's proven [that] Egypt is secure. It is safe and tourism is back."
Britain and Russia have yet to lift a suspension of flights from their countries to the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh that was imposed after Islamic State brought down a Russian airliner in 2015, killing all 215 people aboard.
Egypt could attract as many as 10 million visitors this year, Rashed said, a figure in line with a target of between 10 million and 12 million he gave a year ago for 2017.
"We're going to reach as maximum as we can," he said.
Rashed said Egypt reached "almost 15 million room nights" in the first quarter, though he declined to say how many foreign visitors the country attracted during the period.
Figures from the first quarter "show tremendous growth", with German visitor numbers "growing very well," he said.
Last month, Rashed said the number of tourists could return close to levels seen before its 2011 uprising, encouraged by investments in airport security and a cheaper Egyptian pound.
The number of tourists coming to Egypt's beaches and ancient sites stood at 9.3 million in 2015, he said, compared with more than 14.7 million in 2010. No 2016 figures were available yet.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; editing by Mark Heinrich)