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28 January 2008

Back To Mother Nature

Back To Mother-Nature

By Hoda Nassef

Egypt is rich in tourism. It is a haven for tourists and offers all types of tourism for all tastes, nationalities, and budgets. To name a few: Antiquities, Cultural, Recreational, Conference, Shopping Tourism, Health Tourism, Water Sports, Desert Safaris, as well as Song, Dance & Film festivals, and last but not least, Eco-Tourism.

According to experts in the field of Tourism, eco-tourism should be endorsed and promoted to its full potential, especially as we have several protected parks for rare animals and species of migrating birds in Sinai, El-Rayan Oasis, Fayoum and other spots throughout the country. This is what they don’t have in their own countries, and is atypical of their own tourism. This is what they would come for.

Why imitate the West? It is true that our beautiful luxurious five-star hotels and beach resorts are flourishing here, but they are also flourishing all over the world. Its clientele in Egypt are mainly the Arab nationals, and it also caters to some élite Egyptians who prefer this type of arrangement for a weekend, or a week, at the most. But even the élite and celebrities here now have their own private chalets and villas, which they now prefer to an expensive stay at any of these hotels or resorts, unless they are celebrating a wedding or want to be in the limelight.

The majority of vacationers, Egyptians or foreign residents, opt for a more casual accommodation and rustic atmosphere. They don’t need to pay so much for that. Why pay exorbitant hotel fees, when they stay out all day, then use the hotel only to sleep in? Twenty years ago, Sharm El-Sheikh had only 3 and 4-star hotels. Thirty years ago, it wasn’t even on the map! Dahab and Nuweiba consisted of native Bedouin tribes, and the daredevils who ventured to go there, went by jeep and slept in tents. But, they loved it! They went back for more, guarding preciously their secret getaways! Nowadays, they are searching for new remote areas unknown to the rest of the world. But, alas! - To no avail. Therefore, eco-tourism is the solution and preferred alternative.

Our topography, climate, environment, and Protected Parks combined, are more suitable for casual tourism. Most of our visitors travel across the world in order to see our antiquities (Ancient Egyptian, Moslem, Coptic relics and monuments) – or to enjoy our superb unrivalled beaches. Hotel resorts abroad, even in Italy, have stony beaches, unlike our soft white or golden sand. Our turquoise water in the Northern coast, and aquamarine water of the Red Sea, are unique and rich in marine life and sea creatures, and the waters are crystal-clear and warm all year round. Most importantly, our coral reefs are incomparable. Added to that, Sharm El-Sheikh, Taba Heights, Taba, Marsa Allam and Ras Mohamed, are the best places in the world for diving, whereas what Hurghada offers is unmatched for sailing, fishing, windsurfing, scuba diving, and underwater photography, and hosts international competitions for these sports as well.

Consequently, the Ministry of Tourism encourages eco-tourism, which not only helps preserve our protected parks, but also endorses environmentally friendly hotels, “green hotels”, and environmental awareness amongst tourists, hotel managers and employees alike. New Eco-Lodges are in the process of construction. The first of its kind, constructed over ten years ago, 40 km south of Taba, is the Basata (“simplicity”) village. There is also the Nesima Hotel in Dahab, which is a bit more modernized than the rest, and there are some eco-lodges in Siwa, in the Western Desert, as well. Everything else is built, or rather made, from natural resources and material of the same environment (such as wood, bamboo, clay, mud, palm leaves, etc.) Other eco-lodges are on their way, or in blueprint, such as in Wadi (Oasis) Ryan, overlooking the salty lakes of Fayoum.

Back-packers, or economy tourists, who prefer nature and a casual leisurely atmosphere, would be delighted to discover the eco-lodges budding throughout Egypt. Besides, most tourists or local vacationers want to relax and get away from their humdrum lives, or stressful jobs, and see something new. The majority of tourists, if you notice, are getting back to basics, whether in life, religion, and even vacation destinations. Yes, they are getting back to nature, as with everything else.

However, real estate developers of beach resorts, are still concentrating on deluxe hotels, which is very good in itself, yet the owners seem to forget that this type of luxury is accessible everywhere else in the world, and, usually cheaper than in Egypt. We cannot rely only on our “friendly service” behind our “friendly smiles” if the tourist feels that he is being ripped off! We should get realistic, and reduce cost of accommodations, facilities and products for foreigners. Foreign guests see clearly the difference in the hotel fees they are charged, (as in everything else) in comparison to what Egyptians pay.

Construction everywhere should be limited and well-organized. As one foreigner said: “Egypt is one big construction site”! Clean up, please! Or, get the job done faster, in a cleaner and more expedient way, to back up your clichés of environmental awareness! Besides, why should we go out of our way to do something (or build something in this case) totally uncharacteristic of our land, our environment, our culture even, and our traditions? Eco-tourism, in my opinion, should be endorsed and encouraged to its full potential. Eco-tourism and eco-lodges are more characteristically in tune with our environment, our climate, our nature, and landscape. We don’t really have beautiful flora and luscious green surroundings for such extravaganzas, except the few plants, palm trees, and artificial lawns carpeting our hotels’ courtyards! So, let’s use our good assets. Egypt has plenty. And let’s use our common sense. Egyptians have plenty to be proud of, enjoy … and share with its guests!




H.N.

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