Sharm el Sheikh – stable and open for tourism, despite Egypt’s political situation
Many winter sun seekers with holidays booked in Red Sea resorts will have been concerned to see recent news images of political and social unrest in Egypt, fearing that, for reasons of personal safety, their trip might have to be cancelled.
Perhaps I can allay some of those concerns. I returned home from a week in Sharm el Sheikh just before Hosni Mubarak stepped down from his position as President of Egypt but saw no evidence of unrest. In fact, the area was very pleasant to visit. Despite the country’s widely reported tension, the staff in hotels, restaurants and bars maintained a high level of professionalism. I would never wantonly take risks while travelling and at no point during my stay in Sharm el Sheikh did I feel the need to cut short my trip. In fact, I quite fancied the idea of prolonging my stay to take advantage of the resort’s relative quietude, in order to enjoy more of the Red Sea’s excellent scuba diving.
It was interesting to be in Egypt during a momentous period of the country’s modern history and talking to Egyptians about the root causes of their country’s troubles was fascinating. Hearing first-hand reports of what it was like to pass through improvised checkpoints in Cairo made me realise that much more was taking place, beyond just the high-profile protests on Tahrir Square. In a way, I felt a bit like someone who was in Dallas, Texas, on 22 November 1963 but nowhere near Dealey Plaza, where JFK was assassinated; I sensed that these were historic times but that I was far removed from the real action.
Friends and family members kept sending me messages of concern, asking if I was safe. That in itself was interesting. On the television news I had been told that the internet and mobile phone connectivity had been suspended throughout Egypt, though they continued to function there in Sharm el Sheikh. As my week in Sharm progressed, I could see that the number of holidaymakers was dwindling. More and more poolside sun loungers lay empty and, by the end of the week, restaurants had a surprising number of empty seats.
The foreign ministries of several European countries have advised their citizens against travel to Egypt. Likewise, the US Department of State recommended its citizens not to travel to Egypt “due to ongoing political and social unrest.” The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, meanwhile, was taking a softer stance, observing that the “Red Sea Resorts, including Sharm el Sheikh, remain calm” and that the 8pm to 6am curfew, which was being applied elsewhere in Egypt, did not apply.
I travelled out of Sharm el Sheikh to St Catherine’s Monastery and the Coloured Canyon in the Sinai Desert. Prior to travelling, the tour operator needed to check on the latest security situation, but we could visit the attractions without any hinderance. The only “disturbance” of any note was that banks and ATMs remained closed for a couple of days, on the orders of the Central Bank of Egypt. Ultimately, for me, that just meant less souvenir shopping.
Local hoteliers and resort owners are undoubtedly concerned by cancellations made in the wake of the country’s political crisis. Occupancy rates in some of Sharm el Sheikh’s hotels have dropped below 20 per cent and will fall even further over coming days, when those holidaymakers now present return home.
“I believe very much that the situation is not going to last for long. Here in Sharm we are on a different continent; we’re not in Africa. We are 550km from Cairo and the only connection is one tunnel under the Suez Canal. You could be in a different country. Everybody here is here for the tourism. Tourism is our livelihood; if there is no tourism there is no life,” said Emad F. Aziz, the Chairman of the Savoy Group, which operates Sharm el Sheikh’s Royal Savoy, Savoy and Sierra resorts, as well as the Soho Square entertainment and dining area.
“Red Sea areas are safe and secure,” said Hamada Abou El-Enin, the Chairman and CEO of the Hilton’s Sharm Dreams Resort and Spa. “This is a storm and we have to wait,” he added.
I also spoke with General Ahmed Saleh Al Edkawy, the Assistant Secretary General of the Governorate of South Sinai, who has a key role in the crisis management currently being undertaken by stakeholders in the region’s tourism industry. “The tourism industry may face some disturbances but it will never die. We will get back to where we were. Sharm el Sheikh is a big resort and not a city; the changes will be limited,” said General Al Edkawy.
“My main concern is the labour here,” said General Al Edkawy. “I don’t want to lose them. We must keep them; they have experience and know how to deal with tourists,” acknowledging the role that well-trained staff have in satisfying the service expectations of foreign tourists.
One early estimate suggests that Egypt’s tourism industry has suffered to the tune of $1.1b since disturbances began on January 25. Resorts along the Red Sea account for 40 per cent of that industry. People within the industry will undoubtedly want Sharm el Sheikh to remain attractive as quality sunshine resort. Yet as tour operators and hoteliers seek to win back business, it may be that prospective holidaymakers can pick up some attractive bargains over the coming weeks and months.
The beaches may be emptier than is usual but the sun – hope thousands of people who depend on the tourism industry for their livelihoods – has by no means set on Sharm el Sheikh and Egypt’s Red Sea resorts.
Source: The Travel Editor.com