Despite the fact that Sharm el Sheikh and smaller cities in South Sinai such as Dahab, Taba and St Catherine’s have been hit hard by airlines cancelling flights for months, Red Sea destinations in South Sinai believe in a brighter future.
When a plane first went down in Sinai, and airlines and big tour operators started pulling out of Sharm; we knew there were hard times ahead. People here have weathered crisis in tourism before, but none have lasted as long as the current downturn.
Many workers have been sent home on extended holidays, in other words “no pay and who knows when or if we will want you back” and resort hotels which were packed with happy visitors (enjoying the Red Sea beaches, reefs and sunshine, and exploring the nearby desert and mountains) have closed or have just few guests. The sun is shining on empty beaches! And some airlines and tour companies that were believed to return end of December (or end of January) are now showing no signs of returning before April.
Facebook groups are filled with comments from foreigners who wanted to come here for Christmas and end of year holidays, but couldn’t due to restrictions from Government and airlines. Many of them are repeat visitors and some have been here 10 times or more, and really don’t want to be anywhere else!
It’s depressing to see many friends leave and stores not bothering to restock because they have no customers. So it has been wonderful to see some businesses try to keep Sharm smiling, with initiatives to give the locals a break that will hopefully encourage visitors from other places in Egypt, and even tempt people to come by longer routes such as through Cairo and Hurghada.
Two resort hotels that led the way were Hilton Sharm Waterfalls Resort and Coral Sea Holiday Village Resort. Both held open days where people had free use of the beaches and pools, with food and drinks available. Coral Sea offered a beach BBQ and the Recreation and Animation teams supplied music, sport activities and laughter, and had guests dancing on the beach.
Their first open days were a big success and will now become a weekly event. For residents, it is good to see inside the resorts they usually don’t get to experience; unless they have friends staying at one of them. For sure if you have experienced the facilities of a hotel, you are more likely to recommend it to others.
The big win was not just seeing smiles on faces of the guests, but the staff who really seemed delighted to have visitors again; even if they don’t spend the big dollars or euros usual foreign guests do.
Other beaches offered special rates and special events, including free or reduced entry for residents plus reduced prices on watersport activities.
Terrazinna is well known for its parties, and did great this season with theme events for most days between Christmas and New Year.
Photo Credit: Annet Fransen
Dahab, as a special community where life has a different feel to Sharm’s life, has suffered even more markedly the decrease in tourism over the past few years. However, Coral Coast Hotel organized a Ladies Night to lift the spirits of women there. The night included an opening meditation session to celebrate being together, drinks and refreshments. Therapies women got to try included Sudanese henna Tattoo and hand scrub, and sessions of a new treatment called the Jade Thermal Massage. There was also a bazaar where the talented chefs, craftswomen and makers of Dahab could also show off their creations. Craft activities for children meant that mothers could just enjoy socializing.
For many in Sharm this has been a time of struggle, but the thoughtfulness of these venues is putting smiles on more than a few faces. It is a sign of recognition that locals can be great advertising for Sharm and Egypt, that we bring visitors just by being here, and by showing that Sharm and Egypt are great places to be.
By Sue Ryan