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CAIRO – 28 February 2019: As of 2015, ecotourism has been defined to mean “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education,” according to the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), the oldest and largest ecotourism society in the world.
Ecotourism has eight main principles, all of which deal with minimizing travellers’ impact, increasing cultural and environmental respect, funding conservation areas and facilities, and provide real, “effective economic incentives for conserving and enhancing bio-cultural diversity and […] protect the natural and cultural heritage of our beautiful planet,” as put by TIES.
With the new five-pillar strategy, which was recently announced by Minister of Tourism Rania El-Mashat, now in place and the continuous efforts by the ministry to diversify the types of touristic tours that Egypt offers, coupled with the recommendations that came out of the Arab Economic Forum for Ecotourism and Protected Areas held in 2018, the ministry is now working to fortify Egypt’s eco-tourism industry by putting money into repairing its eco-touristic hotels, advertising its eco-touristic destinations and training staff to be more environmental-friendly.
In fact, in December 2018, Mashat announced that her ministry is keen on restoring environment-friendly hotels and adapting almost-environment-friendly hotels to satisfy the newly-established rules and guidelines, which stipulate certain levels of water and energy consumption and reduced amounts of carbon dioxide emissions, dubbed “Green Destinations”.
So far, Egypt is home to 80 hotels—totalling 20,000 rooms—that have obtained the Green Star Certificate that is awarded to hotels and resorts that comply with the rules and guidelines of the “Green Destinations”. In cooperation with the Chamber of Tourism Establishments, the ministry is encouraging more hotels to adapt and seek eco-friendly certification, as part of her move towards expanding eco-friendly tourism after it started heavily trending in 2017.
In a phone focus group conducted with five Egyptian tour guides, all of the participants agreed that Egypt is the regional pioneer for ecotourism, explaining that it was the 2011 Revolution that led to the stagnation of the whole industry and the development of eco-tourism, leaving the opportunity for other countries to get ahead. Commenting on this, Hassan Abu-Awwad, who often accompanies tourists to Luxor and Aswan, pointed out that Egypt has some of the leading areas worth conserving on a global level, adding that previously there had been efforts to support the eco-tourism industry after it became a global trend, but that this stopped when the tourism industry took a hit in 2011 and then again in 2013. Abu-Awwad went on to reassure that tourism is becoming strong once more and that there is an increasing—and much needed-focus on diversifying tours and on appealing to prospective tourisms by offering environmentally-friendly hotels, resorts and facilities.
According to Egypt’s Tourism Development Authority (TDA), Egypt has the capacity for four eco-tourism zones, namely: coastal, desert, riverbanks and wetland; all of which, according to the TDA and Professor of Sustainable Development and Urban Design Dr. Hesham M. El-Barmelgy, will allow for the sustainable development of economy and the industry. In fact, the TDA goes a step further, suggesting that by marketing for a new type of tourism, which is easily available in the country but not highly exposed on a global level, the tourism industry will be able to absorb more employees, lowering unemployment rates, as well as increasing the availability of foreign currency and raising morale and community pride.
Adding to this, Barmelgy points out that Egypt’s potential would be hindered without appropriate planning, marketing and management. If these three things are available and strategized in such a way that they will lead to the development of the eco-tourism sector, Egypt’s eco-tourism sector will be able to flourish on a global level and will lead other countries, according to Barmelgy’s research.
As of right now, the Tourism Ministry is working on developing eco-tourism in a number of governments, most notably Fayoum. The ministry, in cooperation with the Egyptian Italian Environmental Cooperation Program (EIECP), is working in developing touristic areas in Fayoum so that they abide by international standards. This is also being done in Nuweiba and other areas.
The move towards eco-tourism comes hand-in-hand with ministerial efforts to train more people and to enhance the security. Recently, the ministry, which was encouraged by calls from key individuals in the industry and ministry officials, has worked on staff development and training.
Chairman and CEO of Emeco Travel, former head of the Egyptian Tourism Federation and former Chairman of Tourism Chambers Elhamy El-Zayat explained to Egypt Today that one of the top priorities in the tourism sector for the next period is training. El-Zayat adds that because there is no language-proficiency requirement for most hospitality-degree admissions, graduates are often left with poor
He adds that funds do exist to train people working in the sector, indicating that money for training has been allocated ever since former Minister of Tourism Fouad Sultan (1985-1993) was in office. To reach a higher level of service and communicate better with tourists, El-Zayat, Walid El Batouty, Counsellor to the Minister of Tourism, Egyptologist, World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations’ representative for the Middle East & North Africa and a celebrity travel guide, and Hisham El-Demery, Chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Board (ETPB), all call for training.
“We need to make sure that people have a good time. Traveling is an experience. You have to make sure that when tourists come, they will find good English, service and information. It is the guide’s role to show the best of Egypt,” says El-Batouty. “Tour guides are in a great position to generate more business for themselves and for the country by showing the best of Egypt. A guide makes it or breaks it.”
In addition to language and technical abilities, Magdy Saleh, Head of the Egyptian Federation of Chambers of Tourism in Hurghada, says there’s a need to improve the organization of services offered to tourists. He explains, for instance, that the crowds of taxi drivers at Cairo International Airport’s arrival halls is a chaotic scene for someone stepping out of the airport to be greeted by flocks of drivers shouting randomly at him. “There is need for a policy to organise taxis at the airport better,” he adds. Similarly, Demery would love to see “an awareness campaign on how to treat tourists.”
As a result of such calls, and many more, the ministry has taken a positive, affirmative step towards developing and training staff. The ministry trained 1,250 employees, who work in different touristic governorates, in health and safety, and is working in cooperation with the World Tourism Organization (WTO) to modernize the standards for the industry and conduct digital check on hotels. Luckily, these preparations, in addition to the intensifying of security measures on touristic destinations within the country, and local and international Egyptian airports, comes in time for the 2019 African Cup of Nations, which will be hosted by Egypt.
Investing in Egyptian protectorates
Environmental tourism can also save Egypt’s 30 protectorates, which cover 15 percent of the total land and are protected under Law No. 102 of 1983, which was later reaffirmed by Law No. 4 of 1994. By allowing investors to put their money into protectorates, Egypt’s benefits will be threefold: It will increase tourist influx; it will develop and sustain protectorates; and, it will increase the foreign direct investment (FDI) to Egypt.
Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad revealed on the margins of the annual meetings of the African Caucus for the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which took place in August 2018, that the Ministry of Environment is preparing to offer 30 nature reserves to the right of use for 5 to 10 years. Since then, the ministry has started offering natural reserves, beginning with Nabq and Wadi Degla with the aim of developing the reserves’ infrastructure.
In a previous Ministry statement, Khaled Fahmy, former Minister of Environment, had said that the Ministry has developed plans to sustainably develop natural protectorate, explaining that the aforementioned plan focuses on supporting the environment, keeping tabs on climate change and supporting visitors to enjoy the protectorates to the highest of levels. This plan, Fahmy has explained, will increase management development at the nature reserves and their resources.
In comments, Fahmy had also pointed out that sustaining the environment would be achieved best through economic prosperity and creating investment opportunities and projects that are able to sustain protectorates. “Investing in protectorates is our hope for a practical solution that sustains protectorates and protects the environment,” he had said.
Given the rise of the now trendy environmental tourism, there is a need for Egypt to keep up with this trend and put itself on the environmental tourism map by finding innovative projects and entertainment opportunities for it tourisms.
The Ministry had previously explained that by nature there are different sides to environmental tourism, suggesting that the private sector will be able to develop them as the high amount of players in the sector and their different interests will ensure that all sides are targeted. The sector’s global revenue comes up to $7.6 trillion and provides 77 million jobs and business opportunities. Moreover, the sector’s global growth is significant, and this confirms that it is promising and can bring us high revenues.
About 8 million visitors go to protectorates in Egypt on a yearly basis, meaning that if these protectorates are developed, they will pose as a great business opportunity for the country, pushing it forwards even more towards a healthy economy.
Putting Egypt on the environmental tourism map
To develop protectorates to make them ready for investors—and more attractive for them too—Egypt has located millions towards protectorates, especially those that have recently been announced. In 2016, Egypt located some LE 38 million to 12 protectorates in Sinai.
Dr. Essam Saadallah, Director of Nature Reserves in Sinai, pointed out that the Ministry of Environment allocated LE 3 million to replacements and renovations, and improving services and securing reserves, adding 120 new sandbags around the coral reefs in the reserves of Ras Mohammed, Abu Jalum and Taba; they are also following diving and snorkelling activities to avoid any damaged that could happen to the coral reefs.
To develop and implement ideas that will meet the needs of visitors, explains Dr Adel Soliman, Former Director of Nature Reserved in the Ministry of Environment and Consultant to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), several governmental and international bodies researched and studied the kind of services that visitors will need in each reserve.
They reached the view that there is a need for environmental hotels, café, shaded areas for people to rest in for a while during their visit and washrooms. Although these developments first started in protectorates in Sinai, they then started to spread across all of Egypt’s protectorates.
In late 2018, Ahmed Salama, Head of Nature Protection Sector, Ministry of Environment, said that the Ministry is almost done developing nine out of 30 protectorates in Egypt. It is expected that developments will be finalized by the end of this year for these nine protectorates, in addition to Wadi Degla and the Petrified Forest.