Photo courtesy of El Gouna
Over the past three decades the coveted Red Sea tourist and resident destination of El Gouna has become a successful venture in sustainable development. Today, with an integrated community of 15,000 permanent residents in addition to tourists from all over the world, El Gouna has managed to stay ahead of the tourism curve and is eyeing more growth and expansion. El Gouna General Manager Mahmoud El Baroudy talks about what’s in store for the all-year-round, sustainable destination.
What’s the secret behind El Gouna’s success as a sustainable tourism development?
El Gouna is a story of sustainable growth and dedication, to think that almost 27 years ago it all began as a thought is truly remarkable. Engineer Samih Sawiris started out with an idea, to utilize Egypt’s spectacular habitat. With that thought in mind he set out to find land. Coming across a breathtaking piece of land on the outskirts of Hurghada, the company started to build a small number of beach houses in the midst of a marina. Located on touristic land, the company was requested to integrate a hotel, El Gouna soon became a honeypot destination and demand started to grow. Not wanting it to be a typical vacation destination and wanting El Gouna to grow sustainably, every development was very much dependent on the long term. With job opportunities increasing, housing was built for the workers so they wouldn’t need to commute back and forth from Hurghada. With the vision that El Gouna could be more than a destination spot and already having the infrastructure ready, a school and hospital soon followed, and El Gouna was on its way to having a full-fledged community.
How has El Gouna managed to go against the downward tourism curve?
El Gouna has been able to withstand the drops in the Egyptian tourism industry following the revolution because of its solid belief in sustainable development and identifying itself as an all-year-round destination. Today, El Gouna has close to 15,000 permanent residents and with only 44% of the land developed, we are looking to grow the community much further.
To ensure that El Gouna maintains this level of quality and precision, the behind the scenes is key. With a devil-in-the-detail approach, maintaining high-quality service and maintenance that works like clockwork, we ensure that El Gouna continues its ambitious ventures without compromising its identity and quality; it is the sum of the parts that is greater than the whole. Sustainable development is a priority so we keep an eye out on the environment we are in and maintain jobs for the local community. This proactive stance toward environmental issues dates back to 2002 with the launch of the Green Gouna initiative, a project aimed to position El Gouna as an environmentally friendly destination. The Green Gouna initiative has evolved to become what it is known today as the Green Star Hotel Initiative by partnering up with the Public Private Partnership Program (PPP) of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (now GIZ) GmbH to implement an environmentally and economically sustainable management system in the hotel industry in Egypt.
Tell us about El Gouna’s green commitment
With a waste recycling plant, water desalination projects, water management systems and planting projects, El Gouna is one of Egypt’s most environmentally friendly holiday destinations and has been awarded four Green Globe certificates by Green Globe International, a non-profit organization that promotes environmentally and socially responsible tourism.
Now we are aiming for El Gouna to be a first-home sustainable beach town catering to the needs of a diverse community sharing the same values. We are in the process of improving all our services and introducing new ones for our community. To do that, we are aiming to develop various projects and plans that we aim to accomplish on the short run.
A growing community also means a demand for jobs. How is El Gouna accommodating this?
One of the challenges we always think of is how to create jobs for people who want to relocate to El Gouna; creating job opportunities and encouraging new initiatives and businesses is key. This led us to the launch of the new co-working space to attract startups or those who want to come to El Gouna and work but have no office space, be it from Cairo or Europe. The first phase of the project has three office spaces and can accommodate up to 30 people. Upon completion it will accommodate up to 120 people. It also has varied and flexible packages to fit different needs; from renting a desk for a few hours to renting closed offices for several months.
We are also targeting businesses that operate within the tourism market to have their headquarters in El Gouna. We are currently in talks with a few companies, one of which is a large tour operator that caters to the Egyptian market.
We have 600 students in El Gouna International School and another 600 in a state-school. We aim to achieve academic excellence to be able to send students to Ivy League Universities. With that, the school would have a pull effect that would assist people who want to move to El Gouna on making the decision, to further instill its status as a sustainable, all-year-round destination.