Egypt woos eco tourists for Sharm el-Sheikh

CAIRO (Reuters) - The Egyptian holiday resort of Sharm el-Sheikh intends to slash its carbon emissions in the next decade to woo a growing class of eco-tourists, a senior government official who heads the $238 million project says.

Experts welcome the plan but believe the government should also be enforcing existing environmental rules in the Red Sea resort of 62,000 hotel rooms, where dust from frantic coastal construction has been blamed for damaging prize coral reefs.

Tourism is a crucial source of foreign currency and jobs in Egypt, accounting for about 11 percent of GDP.

“Tourists will pick places that are environmentally friendly and taking positive steps to reduce their carbon emissions,” said Hisham Zaazou, a top official at the Tourism Ministry.

The resort’s aim is to be carbon neutral by 2020, though Zaazou told Reuters in an interview: “We will not reach the zero stage by 2020, but we will be almost there.”

The plan is to introduce renewable energy schemes, cut water use and improve waste management to boost the environmental credentials of a resort where sprawling concrete hotel complexes have sprung up in recent decades.

Beaches and dive sites around Sharm el-Sheikh attracted 3-4 million of the roughly 12 million tourists who visited Egypt last year, Zaazou said.

“Sharm is a lab (laboratory) ... and once it succeeds, we will replicate the project elsewhere.”


Work on the green initiative starts this month and six small projects should be completed by the end of 2010. Among these early programmes will be new diving restrictions to help preserve damaged reefs and the powering of some street lights with solar energy.

Longer term, the aim is to use wind and solar energy to power more of the resort. Other plans, still being drawn up, include using electric boats and hybrid buses.

“What gives this immediate urgency is ... the buzz word, climate change,” Zaazou said.

A 2008 U.N. report said travel and tourism contributed about 5 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the blame has been put on air travel, the way most tourists reach Sharm el-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula’s tip.

Egypt could itself be one of the countries worst hit by climate change. Most of its 77 million people are crammed into the low-lying Nile Valley and Delta, the country’s agricultural heartland.

Zaazou said the project would cost about 3 percent of the resort’s annual revenues and the aim was for private investors to meet 48 percent of this. “We are trying to entice the private sector to move in this direction,” he said.

He said several banks had indicated they would help with finance and some hotels were looking at putting in place energy saving schemes in their complexes.

Some people feel the project is a good idea, but say the government could increase its impact by enforcing existing environmental protection rules.

Sherif El-Ghamrawy, owner of an ecological tourist lodge north of Sharm el-Sheikh, said the government needed to convince private firms that protecting the environment was good business and should enforce environmental codes more firmly.

Hesham Gabr, head of the Diving and Maritime Activities Chamber, echoed those comments, saying: “Today, the simplest of problems go unsolved ... Any agency in a position to enforce regulations is either absent or overloaded.”

Zaazou said the environment had been damaged by the rush to develop the resort, but the ministry was taking firmer action, including a decision in 2009 to halt new construction.

Editing by Matthew Jones