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More than just the land of Pharoahs
Published in Daily News Egypt on 26 - 08 - 2006


Egypt's untapped tourism resources boundless
CAIRO: Along with the Suez Canal and oil and gas revenues, tourism is one of Egypt's main sources of foreign currency and, as the number of tourists increase every year, so does the importance of the money they pump into the national economy. Patterns, however, are shifting, with tourists looking for something more than just the traditional tour of the monuments or cold drinks on a hot beach. With a little bit of development and forethought, Egypt has the potential to meet the new demands of worldwide tourists
The scale of the industry is impressive. Last year, the number of visitors to Egypt increased from 8.1 million to 8.6 million, with Germany provided the largest number of visitors, 979,000, more than any other European country.
Egypt has always been famous as the land of the Pharaohs, and has relied on this for its tourism for a long time. But Egypt has much more to offer than the Valley of the Kings and the Giza Plateau. Though few of us have actually had the opportunity to walk in the snow in the high Sinai mountains, watch tropical birds in a marshy lake district, or explore the rich pristine coral reefs and marine life of Egypt s coastal waters, these sights are barely more than a stone s throw from the ancient monuments and the sandy beaches that are so popular among tourists. Perhaps this is why, since the early 1980s, the Egyptian government has been so intent on establishing nature reserves, or, as they are often called in Egypt, "protected areas.
Nature reserve tourism has become a goal for many governments in the region. This interest is not only fueled by the fact that this kind of tourism will provide new revenues from hotels, airports, transportation and entrance tickets, but also by the fact that the Mediterranean simply does not have enough nature reserves.
Environmental experts of The World Conservation Union held a Conference on Financing Protected Areas in the Mediterranean, in Seville, Spain from January 29-31, 2006. They concluded after the conference that protected areas in the Mediterranean are seriously under-funded. Talking about Egypt, according to some reports released for the News Press Agency for the Mediterranean, the revenues derived from protected areas are about $3.5 million a year, which is nearly double the budget for these areas. Only 3 percent to 5 percent of this sum is spent on supporting their infrastructure systems.
With its 26 protected areas, Egypt has declared that 5,598 hectares, or 5.7 percent, of its total land area should be protected from destructive development.
The best-known reserve, which is also Egypt's first national park, lies at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, 30 km south of Sharm El-Sheikh. Ras Mohamed (Point Mohamed) was established in 1983 and protects more than 200 species of coral, 1,000 species of fish and a large number of threatened mammals.
The South Sinai governorate has the largest number of protected areas in Egypt. These areas are the island of Teran, the island of Asafer, the St. Catherine, Abo Galom, Nabak and Taba reserves. These natural reserves have their own beauty and mystique. They also provide shelter for many rare mammals, birds and plants.
Other protected areas extend all over Egypt from the northwest coast, which contains the beautiful protected area of Al-Ameed in Matrouh governorate, to the Saloga and Ghazal protected areas in the Aswan governorate.
Therapeutic tourism is another obvious feature of the environmental tourism business. Egypt possesses a wide range of rich physical features, including many hot springs. Clay found in these springs boasts therapeutic properties that can be used to treat numerous bone, skin, kidney and respiratory diseases. Also, the chemical composition of the water of the Red Sea and abundance of coral reefs is used to cure various forms of psoriasis.
Many tourist sites offer curative services in Egypt. Sand bathing is famous in the south of Egypt in Aswan. Treatment centers for psoriasis are well established on the Red Sea coast at Marsa Alam and Safaga. Siwa Oasis is also famous for its therapeutic treatment of rheumatism and renal diseases at Gabal Takrour (Mount Takrour) and Hamamat Cleopatra (Cleopatra s Bath).
Despite its environmental riches and the wealth of ancient monuments and museums, the country probably attracts more beach vacationers than any other type of tourist. Since the warm Egyptian beaches are both inexpensive and well appointed, this comes as no surprise.
Egypt has a number of beach zones, with Mediterranean beaches all along the northern coast from Libya to the Sinai, and the warm waters of the Red Sea stretching from Taba down to Marsa Alam in the south.
While both coasts have their own character and advantages, international tourism has focused heavily on the Red Sea coast over the last 20 years, with the resort towns of Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh providing a variety of hotels and entertainment in a range of prices to fit almost any tourist budget.
Despite all this development, however, many areas remain unexploited. The coastline between Marsa Matrouh and Al-Alamein, considered a hot spot for tourism development, is one example. This area has many advantages that make it a good place for investment. Close to Europe, it has good weather and clean sandy beaches.
Any visitor to the eastern coast can't escape talking about diving. The Red Sea is well known as one of the best diving opportunities in the world. It is not only divers, however, who enjoy the riches of its coral reef, as the Red Sea offers an incomparable experience for swimming and snorkeling, and even those who simply want to ride in a glass-bottomed boat.
Another thrilling option in Egypt is rock climbing. The Red Sea region is riddled with mountains to climb. Sinai offers many exhilarating opportunities including Al-Rameel, Hamam Foro'on, Al-Maghara and Al-Sefsaf. The same adventure is also available away from the sea in Al-Fayoum in the Abo Lefa 474-meter-high mountains and in Katrany and Al-Serwana mountains, with an elevation of over 740 meters.
In addition to the adventure offered by this sport, it offers tourists the chance to see Egypt from an unusual perspective. Many young people work as guides for rock climbers - these guides show tourists the way up, stay there overnight and complete the journey the next day. The whole trip usually costs around $200.
Egypt is rich in untapped tourism resources that can potentially offer tourists unparalleled experiences if they are properly developed. By building up the incredible natural resources of the country, Egypt has the potential to attract a new kind of tourist.


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