The ancient land of Egypt has long enticed explorers and visitors from across the world
Today, the country has one of the world's most ambitious tourism development plans, concentrated on the Sinai Peninsula and Red Sea Coast. How is it tackling the challenge of making large scale tourism development sustainable?
As the fastest-growing economic sector, tourism has become one of Egypt's largest industries and its Tourism Development Authority (TDA) has plans for around 200,000 new hotel rooms over the next 15 years. Most of this capacity expansion is concentrated in the Sinai Peninsula and Red Sea Coast where large tourism development centres are planned on unoccupied coastal land.
Before the TDA was established under the umbrella of the Ministry of Tourism in 1991, the subject of sustainable tourism was rarely discussed in Egypt and the Middle East. The Red Sea Sustainable Tourism Initiative (RSSTI), set up in 1999, is one of the first tourism programmes in the Middle East and Africa to embrace the principles of sustainable development.
The RSSTI is a TDA-implemented programme with funding provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and technical assistance from the international firm PA Consulting Group.
From the outset it has helped the TDA to focus on implementing a methodical work programme that a) integrates international standards of sustainable tourism development and b) promotes the sustainable development of tourism in Egypt's key tourism destinations.
As Ahmed Hassan, Task Manager at the RSSTI explains: "We have constantly emphasised the importance of considering tourism within the context of sustainable development in Egypt. To work towards this ambitious goal, we looked very carefully at international standards such as Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry. Our work at the RSSTI is a proactive effort to engage stakeholders in more responsible Red Sea tourism development by disseminating information on best practice and increasing environmental awareness. We do this by developing industry guidelines and standards, workshops and training courses for tourism development decision-makers and key managers in the hospitality industry, to promote the benefits of 'green' hotels and sustainable tourism destinations".
The RSSTI has introduced improved systems and regulations for environmental impact assessments (EIA) and monitoring, environmental management best practices for alternative tourism and developed an ecologically sensitive zoning plan for the TDA land to be developed in the southern Red Sea region. "This means that now, new centres of tourism development, individual projects and a wide range of support facilities have to be assessed according to an integrated system of environmental management before they can be approved by the TDA and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency" says Ahmed.
A nation-wide mandate
Through the RSSTI programme, the TDA has formulated a 'mandate' for sustainable tourism development throughout Egypt. The mandate encompasses ten key principles to advance sustainable tourism development, including developing environmentally, socially and culturally compatible forms of tourism; integrating planning strategies; forming partnerships and encouraging local community participation; developing eco-efficiency and environmental management systems and 'designing with nature' to create low impact buildings. It also places a high priority on enforcing legislation against any kind of illegal or exploitative tourist activity, informing tourists about cultural ecological and other values and organising and taking part in international and regional efforts to address issues relevant to sustainable tourism development.
The TDA is currently finalising an ecologically-based zoning ordinance and master plan for the South Red Sea region, which defines ecological zones in order to assure that tourism development preserves the marine and terrestrial ecosystems of highly sensitive areas. This involved a meticulous process to determine an optimum land-use management plan that identifies various zones for different types and levels of development and environmental management -including the development and marketing of eco-tourism. The zoning effort recognises the importance of conservation policies in securing long-term benefits from development in this sector.
Since 2000, the TDA has implemented more than 30 national and regional conferences, workshops and training seminars, the most recent of which was held in Cairo in May 2003, Called Sustainable Tourism Egypt (STE) 2003 with the underlying theme 'Tourism Development in Environmentally Sensitive Areas' it marked the first of a series of conferences on the sustainable development of resorts and hotels and included the launch of the first integrated environmental guidelines for tourism development centres.
Attended by over 700 people, the event invited delegates to join efforts to push forward with Egypt's progressive sustainable tourism programme and put environmental protection and conservation at the top of the agenda, Calling for delegates' support, Egypt's Minister of Tourism Dr. Mamdouh El-Beltaugi said: "Now more than ever, there is a need to further consider the importance of sustainable tourism in the context of our development plans for the 21st century.
A particular concern is the continued degradation of biodiversity and fragile ecosystems, such as coral reefs, deserts, coastal areas and wildlife, Policy development and implementation of sustainable tourism as a true need, not a luxury, must take place in co-operation with all interested parties, especially the private sector and local communities and through stakeholders' consultation vehicles like the one demonstrated by your alliance and grouping of today".
Population: 71 million, second to Nigeria as the most populous African nation, Around 99% of Egyptians live in 4% of Egypt's million km2 of land
Climate: Generally hot and dry except in the north between December and February
International Visitors Per Year: 5 million, up from 2,6 million in 1990, Tourism contributes 7.5% of GDP and supports employment for approximately 1.7 million people, The Red Sea area currently constitutes 32% of tourist nights. This is predicted to rise from 1,300 beds in 1982 to an estimated 400,000 beds in 2012.
International Airports: Cairo, Alexandria, Hurghada, Sharm EI Sheikh and Marsa Alam on the southern Red Sea Coast (opened in 2002). New airports planned for Sinai. Other airports at Luxor and Aswan
Key Issues: Dense populations in Cairo and Alexandria, water scarcity outside Nile Valley, waste disposal preservation of antiquities and protecting fragile coral reefs and marine ecosystems
Main Tourism Areas: Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan, Red Sea Coast South Sinai
Tourist Activities: Sightseeing, antiquities, marine sports and diving, beach vacations, trekking, bird watching, desert safaris and visiting 'souks' or markets
Responsible Tourism: The Ministry of Tourism in co-operation with development agencies such as the World Bank and USAID have advanced the cause of sustainable development since the early 1990s, Experience gained through The Red Sea Sustainable Tourism Initiative (RSSTI) is now influencing national tourism planning and adoption of 'best practices' in the tourism industry
Red Sea Coast tourism development
During the past decade, tourism development along Egypt's Red Sea Coast has evolved from a generally unplanned approach to a growing application of sustainability principles; Aiming not to repeat the mistakes of unplanned development in Hurghada, the TDA is responsible for developing over 1,000 km of coastline along the Red Sea, Gulf of Aqaba and Gulf of Suez.
The main attraction is scuba diving, with growing interest in other marine activities such as windsurfing and sport fishing. Many of the offshore islands are included in a nature reserve.
While the tourism development strategy of the Red Sea region relies on the private sector, the TDA plays a vital role in guiding developers to adopt the highest quality standards in design, construction and operation, It recognises that any development or human activity may have negative impacts if not properly managed.
Although the TDA has drawn up regulations and legal requirements, its policy when dealing with developers is to encourage rather than discourage, provide incentives rather than penalise and guide rather than command.
To this end, a set of economic instruments has been developed to encourage developers to adopt and implement best practices in design, construction and operation of their projects; this covers issues such as incentives for private contractors to provide solid waste management services.
The TDA's preferred development model is a Tourism Centre, Ranging from 500,000m' to several million square metres of land area, the centres are a planned concentration of tourism facilities within a defined area according to an approved Master Plan. Private developers are responsible for all facilities and infrastructure and operate under a contract with TDA.
The centres consist of tourist accommodation, recreational, commercial, and cultural facilities, together with workers' housing and urban services (such as schools and medical services). Single or multiple investors are required to co-ordinate construction and operations according to a specified timetable.
Most Tourism Centres include a range of accommodation types, from 3 star Egyptian-run hotels to 5-Star international flag hotels, All the major chains are present and a number of properties that are owned and/or operated by international tour operators such as TUI (lberotel and Robinsons) and Viaggi del Ventaglio (Venta Clubs), An estimated 70% of all international visitors to the Red Sea Coast come through international tour operator packages.
The TDA has released national guidelines for Best Practices for Tourism Centre Development along the Red Sea Coast which provides information, support and mentoring to developers and their consultants so that they can adapt and apply internationally-recognised best practices in environmental planning and design. Comprehensive guides have also been published covering solid waste management landscaping, water and sanitation, energy efficiency and environmental management systems with practical examples to guide developers and practitioners.
Through RSSTI the TDA is also encouraging the implementation of Environmental Management Systems (EMS) in resorts as an example of voluntary initiatives and self-monitoring, eight resorts have implemented a resort-wide EMS which resulted in significant savings. Two resorts so far, Steigenberger Golf Resort and The Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh have been awarded Green Globe certification and others have been awarded certificates of excellence by the Ministry of Tourism. The EMS programme includes stakeholder training courses, certification for hotel environmental officers and disseminating self-evaluation criteria for hotel environmental performance.
Developers and operators are actively encouraged to display awareness materials on domestic routes, access roads to hotel properties, within the resorts and facilities and in the in-room publicity materials. A regional awareness campaign with the theme 'Give the Environment a Hand' was launched in 1999 and continues to promote community and tourist involvement in protecting the Red Sea environment.
Ecotourism development in the Deep Range Region
RSSTI has issued guidelines for ecotourism development in the Eastern Desert and mountains separating the Nile Valley from the Red Sea in an area known as the Deep Range of the Red Sea region. The TDA's goal for ecotourism development here is 'to enable people to enjoy and learn about the unique natural historical and cultural resources in this region while simultaneously preserving their integrity and stimulating regional economic development'. Within the southern zone lies an environmentally and historically important area called Wadi al Gimal which has recently been declared a national protectorate.
Although it is one of the world's most arid regions, the Deep Range is adjacent to the Red Sea, a major body of water. Disparities such as this have created many environmental and cultural characteristics that have the potential to provide unique ecotourism experiences.
The second highest peak in Egypt, Gabal Shayeb El-Banat (2,187m) offers a stark contrast to the coastal plains at the edge of the Red Sea where the abundance of water and marine life contrasts with the hyper-aridity of the Eastern desert. Wadi al Gimal in particular, provides critical habitats for numerous resident or migratory bird species.
The region was the source of substantial mineral wealth and a vital part of the economic foundation of ancient empires. Careful site inspections and mapping of the Wadi al Gimal by the RSSTI's study team have revealed the ruins of hundreds of residences, mines, sentry posts, public buildings, temples and fortresses.
Because of the harsh physical conditions, there are virtually no permanent human settlements -the population consists of a few hundred nomadic people and a small number of fishermen who live along the coast of the Red Sea.
As part of its strategy to create new communities along the Red Sea, the TDA aims to create a resident population in response to increased employment opportunities generated through ecotourism. However, this remote wilderness area presents substantial challenges for ecotourism development. The harsh conditions of the Deep Range require specialised recreation service delivery techniques, appropriately designed facilities and highly trained personnel in order to provide a safe and enjoyable ecotourism experience.
Access to the southern part of the region has been significantly improved by the recent completion of the Marsa Alam International Airport and large-scale marina facility. To date, outdoor recreation for tourists has focused primarily on marine-based activities with scuba diving, snorkelling, and pleasure boating. A limited number of land-based activities have also been established such as jeep tours, camel riding and guided hiking and there are desert safari operations offering day and overnight expeditions into the Eastern Desert.
"The designation of part of Egypt's Red Sea as a protected area brings both challenges and opportunities for TDA in planning tourism development," notes Bill Meade, RSSTI Project Director and head of PA Consulting Group's sustainable tourism practice. "On the plus side, the declaration will give the destination an added selling point, especially given the rise in nature-based tourism. However, tourism development will necessarily be more restrictive, including lower density of development and lower impact forms of tourism services and activities."
Ahmed Hassan, RSSTI
Bill Meade, PA Consulting Group
Shoreline Management Guidelines
Published in English in 2001 and in Arabic in 2003 in association with Denmark-based DHI Water and Environment 'Shoreline Management Guidelines' is a 200-page handbook which explains in ordinary language the terminology and mechanisms relating to shoreline management and impact assessment and management.
There is increasing pressure on the Egyptian coasts (of which there are more than 3000km) partly from the land-side from the development of tourism, infrastructure and habitation and the need for recreational shores and partly from sea-based impacts such as marine sports.
The guidelines are not only aimed at regulatory authorities, but also developers, planners, environmental specialists, landscape architects, political decision-makers, NGOs, contractors, landowners and other groups that use or are involved in planning, management and preservation of the coasts.
The publication is the first of its kind in the Middle East and will contribute to the promotion of sustainable solutions and to an environmentally responsible administration of the Red Sea coasts.
Certification for hotel environmental managers
In 2002, PA Consulting Group launched the Certified Hotel Environmental Manager programme to meet the professional development needs of hotel managers with responsibility for environmental affairs. To achieve the CHEM certification, applicants must meet educational and work experience pre-requisites and achieve a pass grade on the exam.
A five-day preparatory training course is offered in advance of the exam, focusing on EMS, water, energy and solid waste management emergency preparedness and environmental communication, CHEM was first offered in Jamaica, and course offerings are scheduled for Egypt and Barbados, An international board oversees the CHEM program, with representatives from Cornell University, IHE!, TUI Netherlands, Green Seal, and Fairmont Hotels. The Energy and Environmental Managers Institute administers the certification.
PA Consulting Group
Steigenberger Golf Resort, El-Gouna, Red Sea
Located close to the Red Sea region's spectacular nature reserve, the 148-room Steigenberger Golf Resort is inspired by traditional Egyptian/Bedouin architectural styles and sits surrounded by lagoons in the middle of an 18-hole USPGA Championship Golf course.
Through the RSSTI, Steigenberger has implemented a full Environmental Management System (EMS) according to the requirements of Green Globe 21 and received Green Globe certification in April this year.
In order to comply with the requirements of the EMS, Steigenberger developed an environmental policy which was communicated to guests, employees and service providers.
The resort also implemented a property-wide water and energy conservation programme and has begun an ambitious solid waste management project. Waste is being minimised from source by avoiding the use of disposable plastic liners in waste bins, requesting suppliers to take back packages and replacing disposable amenities with refillable ones.
Waste is now separated into four streams: organic, glass, paper and metal. Batteries and photocopier toners are separated and returned to local recyclers.
Steigenberger has also supported social and community development programmes with financial support for local schools and taken part in clean-up campaigns.