Gigantic tourist project on the North Coast
EGYPTIAN Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, the Minister of Tourism Ahmed El-Maghrabi and the CEO of TUI Deutschland Volker Boettcher were all present to witness the signing of a cooperation protocol to develop the first international touristic project on Egypt's North Coast. The protocol was signed by Hamed El-Chiati, the CEO Of Travco Group, representing the Ras Huala Hotels & Touristic Development Company, as well as by Mohamed El-Shahhat, governor of Matrouh, and engineer Magdi El-Kobeissi, head of the Tourism Development Authority.
The protocol entails that the Ras Huala Company will start work on this huge 1.8 million square metres project which is to be built in two phases. Phase one covers the construction of five 4-star hotels, the first of which will be operational within one year, while the second phase will add a further four hotels. The development, estimated to cost more than LE0.5 billion, is set to be completed within five years, with a total capacity of around 4,300 rooms, in addition to a full array of accompanying touristic and entertainment services.
El-Maghrabi stated that the signing of this protocol will form the starting point for the touristic development of the North Coast. He dwelled on the fact that investors include TUI AG, one of the world's largest travel conglomerates and the leader in the European market. TUI AG had a turnover of 12.7 billion in 2003, and its operations include 285 hotels in 25 countries, as well as an international marketing and sales network. El-Maghrabi further stressed that the commitment of such an investor group will only serve to attract other international players to invest in the North Coast.
The minister further emphasised that the Ministry of Tourism aims to turn the North Coast into a major new tourist destination. The area is endowed with everything needed to make it one of the most important destinations on the Mediterranean coast, in addition to providing a natural entry point to Siwa and the Western Desert Oases. The ministry's plan is to reach 10,000 hotel rooms within seven years, creating around 50,000 job opportunities, as well as reviving tourism in the North Coast region year-round, instead of what are currently seasonal operations which are heavily dependent on domestic tourism.
Red Sea online
FANS of the Red Sea's sandy beaches, crystal turquoise water and rich marine life can now get all the information they need on this area through www.GoRedSea.com. The site, which was launched in June 2002, was designed for foreign travellers who want to know more about the whole Red Sea area, including Hurghada, Safaga, Qusseir, and Marsa Alam, in addition to south Sinai. It provides useful information on different destinations, enabling clients to search for the most suitable hotel, dive centre, activity or restaurant. The site also features an online magazine, a news and reviews section, and a photo gallery that is updated on a monthly basis.
As of December, www.GoRedSea.com will go one step further, launching an integrated online booking system. This will allow international clients to create and book packages online, including hotels and other destination services. In June 2004, another site, www.agazat.com, was launched specifically for Egyptian travellers and foreign residents interested in the Red Sea and its amenities.
Opera Aida is back
STARTING March 2005 and for five consecutive years, Egypt will be presenting performances of Verdi's Aida in both Luxor and Cairo. The shows are being organised by a German private company in cooperation with Memnon Travel, an Egyptian travel agency. The Luxor performances will be held at the Luxor Temple for 12 nights in March/April 2005, whereas the Cairo performances will be held at the Pyramids area for six nights in September. A recent press conference brought together the Head of the City of Luxor Council Samir Farag, the Head of the Egyptian Tourism Authority (ETA) Ahmed El-Khadem and the head the German company in addition to Said El-Batouti, head of the Egyptian Travel Agency, to announce that a major marketing and advertising campaign had already been launched in various countries around the world. A special website devoted to publicising the performances has also been established on the Internet.
For more information, visit www.aida-luxor.com and www.aida-cairo.com.
IF YOU are an Italian food lover, then you have to consider the newly opened "La Piscine" Italian restaurant located by the pool area in Sheraton Miramar Resort in El-Gouna on the Red Sea. The new Italian restaurant provides travellers with a memorable experience dining under a breathtaking blanket of stars, a reminiscent of the true romance of the old years. According to Swiss Executive Chef Charles Mutter, the restaurant provides an authentic atmosphere and a real taste of Italy.
New openings in the capital
THIS AUTUMN, the suburb of Heliopolis will witness the inauguration of the first phase of the gigantic City Stars project. The impending opening was announced by Abdulrahman Sharbatly, the main owner of the project, at a recent press conference attended by Minister of Investments Mahmoud Mohieddin, Minister of Tourism Ahmed El-Maghrabi and the Governor of Cairo Abdel-Azim Wazeer.
City Stars is the first comprehensive project of its kind in Egypt, as it is destined to be the biggest in the Middle East and Europe, and the second biggest in the whole world.
It includes three international hotels, a big entertainment trade centre, residential towers and administrative towers, as well as a medical tower and parking areas.
According to Sharbatly, 80 per cent of the project, that will cost a total of $750 million and provide about 10,000 job opportunities, is already completed. The rest is expected to be finished by the end of 2005. Officials say that the project puts Egypt on the international marketing and entertainment map because it will be able to provide everything that a traveller might need in one place.
The first phase of the project will be inaugurated in October and will include the Intercontinental Heliopolis Hotel, as well as the Stars Centre commercial centre, and the residential and administrative towers which represent 66 per cent of the project. The Stars Centre will include a Monoprix-BHV hypermarket, a covered amusement park called the Magic Galaxy, a 16-screen cinema complex, a Khan Al-Khalili replica and an international fair ground covering an area of 20,000 square metres.
Meanwhile, far from the media fanfares, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts have quietly opened their second property in Cairo, which is also their fifth in the region, Four Seasons Cairo At Nile Plaza. The property is a 30-storey hotel comprising 366 rooms and 78 suites. It has seven food and beverage outlets, serving a variety of cuisines: Cantonese, Italian, seafood and Mediterranean. The property's fifth floor houses Cairo's largest spa and wellness centre. There are also three heated swimming pools, including one for kids, besides a separate children's area. The hotel also offers major banquet and conference facilities.
Itinerary of the month: The other side of Fayoum
This month, we explain how to discover a little-known side of Fayoum: not the traditional tourist Fayoum, where visits tend to be restricted to Lake Qarun, the waterwheels and the springs, but a real in-depth exploration of the cultural and natural riches of rural life in the oasis.
This itinerary is one of a number that have been designed by the Fayoum Ecotourism Project. The two-day trip is perfectly tailored to make for a rich and varied weekend vacation.
Day One: Rural Life, Crafts and Cultural Heritage of Fayoum Oasis
7.30am: Departure from Cairo for Fayoum. Drive to the historic Auberge du Lac Hotel (alternative: the Panorama Shakshouk Hotel) and check in. Over coffee, participants receive an introduction to Fayoum and the programme for the first day.
10am: By bus to the pottery village of Nazla. On the way, stop off to visit a typical Fayoum fruit garden in the village of Aboxa.
In the picturesque village of Nazla, travellers can explore the workshops where functional pottery products in all forms and shapes are produced according to methods that have not changed much since Pharaonic times. More then 20 open-air workshops and ovens are located along the Wadi slopes.
Afterwards there will be a stop in the village of Tunis for a picnic lunch in the peaceful green garden of the famous children's pottery school. Visitors will have a chance to see the young artists making their wares and purchase examples of their craft. They will then spend some time exploring the village itself, before driving on to visit Qasr Qarun, a Ptolemaic temple located in the south-western part of the oasis.
Around 4pm: Travellers will meet with a local camel and donkey trekking entrepreneur for a one-hour ride that will take them from Qasr Qarun through small rural villages and lush fields, where they can observe the farmers going about their daily work. In the background, Lake Qarun and the desert escarpment bordering Fayoum to the north will form a stunning backdrop to the excursion. The ride will end on the shores of Lake Qarun, where a cold drink will be awaiting the thirsty travellers! Afterwards, the bus will bring them back to the hotel for dinner.
Day two: Hike in Wadi Al-Rayan Protected Area. Desert, springs and monasteries
7.15am: After an early breakfast, travellers will depart to Wadi Al-Rayan Protected Area. There will be a short stop in the scenic Mudawwara Mountains, where a short introduction to the park will be provided, before proceeding to the Protected Area Spring Outpost.
The spring area of Wadi Al-Rayan, nestling between limestone ridges and dune fields, is one of the most important natural habitats of the park. It is an excellent example of an uninhabited Saharan oasis, fed by four springs which support the greatest diversity of desert plant and animal life in the whole of the Protected Area. In the 1970s, a group of monks from Wadi Al-Natrun came to Wadi Al-Rayan to take possession of an abandoned monastery which stood on a rocky hill above the spring area. Today, about 20 monks are living in the monastery. They have adapted to the harsh environment, and have even built new rooms and churches in the rocks.
8.30am: The hiking tour will start from the Protected Area Spring Outpost. Visitors will enter the spring area by crossing the huge sand dunes and head towards the second and third springs, where they will be able to take a short rest in the vegetable and fruit garden of the monastery. They will then visit the monastery itself, before climbing to the top of the mountain, from where they will enjoy a breathtaking view over Wadi Al-Rayan.
Towards 3pm: Return to the Spring Outpost and from there head back to Cairo.
For more information about tours in Fayoum, contact: (+202) 735 1045/ 737 0673.
A new bus service in Sinai
A NEW bus service will soon be operating linking the hotels and resorts of Nuweiba and Taba with the Taba entry point. The project will start with two air-conditioned mini-buses that can seat up to 28 passengers each. The number of buses is expected to increase according to the volume of tourist traffic. Tickets will cost LE5 for Egyptians and $5 for foreign travellers. There will be also a $10 day pass. The bus will be operated by the Ministry of Transportation and will be clearly recognisable by its colour (which has not yet been announced). Open jaw trips
AFTER almost three months of operation, the new Doha-Luxor route is proving a considerable success. Since it started operation on 22 June, the route has attracted many from all over the world, especially from Far East countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, China, and Thailand, in addition to Gulf from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar. "We realised that the Far East has major tourist potential and there is a lot of traffic originating from this part of the world," Fathi Atti, area manager for Qatar Airways, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "The Doha-Luxor route is very important to that market, because they are fond of the monuments of Egypt. People come to take a Nile Cruise from Luxor to Aswan, and sometimes they extend their visit to Abu Simbel. Some prefer to spend a day or two in Cairo to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx, and then return via Doha to their homeland. We call it an 'open jaw trip'." Atti added that Qatar Airways deals with 35 tour operators in the Far East who market this route specifically, as well as promoting Luxor as a destination.
"We have 80 per cent occupancy on Doha-Luxor," he declared.
Qatar Airways flies to Luxor four times a week, on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.
Atti stressed that the airline may consider launching routes to other Egyptian tourist destinations, such as Hurghada, Marsa Alam, or Sharm El-Sheikh.
The best dinner in the region
FREQUENT travellers have named the Four Seasons Resort in Sharm El-Sheikh as the number one dinning experience in the Middle East, and the number seven resort in the world.
The 2004 Zagat International Travel Survey is based on feedback from approximately 12,000 travellers who stay in hotels for more than 30 nights each year, with input from approximately 400 travel professionals.
Properties are rated on rooms, service, dining, public areas and facilities, using Zagat's unique 30-point scale.
Travel fair enters fifth round
LAST week, Egypt's travel fair, the Mediterranean Travel Fair (MTF), completed its fifth round, which was generally agreed to have been a great success. The event which ran from 14 to 16 September was officially opened by Egypt's prime minister, Ahmed Nazif, the newly appointed Minister of Tourism Ahmed El-Maghrabi, and Minister of Information Mamdouh El-Beltagui, who is himself a former minister of tourism.
A total of 28 countries exhibited at this year's show, 22 per cent more than at last year's.
International participation included first-time appearances by Australia, Thailand, Brazil, China, the Ukraine and Russia. The Middle East and North Africa were also well represented, with tourism authorities attending from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Dubai, Morocco, Libya, Bahrain and Palestine. The Supreme Commission for Tourism of Saudi Arabia also participated in an official capacity for the first time ever.
In addition, a number of online travel companies were present, including Intoegypt.com, Sabre Travel, GoRedSea.com and 2travel2egypt.com.
Optimism pervaded the show floor as business began. With many exhibitors still basking in the success of a record summer season, high hopes for the remainder of the year were evident across the board. Official Egyptian Tourism Authority figures show that Egypt received 5.3 million tourists between January and July in 2004. This represents a 49 per cent increase over the 3.6 million arrivals recorded during the corresponding period last year.
During the official MTF press conference, El-Maghrabi declared that there has been a strong rebound in European interest, as a result of which Egypt is now set to receive for the first time one million visitors from a single market. "The race is now on between Germany and Italy as to who will be the first to provide Egypt with one million tourists per year," El-Maghrabi said.
However, El-Maghrabi stressed that Egypt is also trying to explore new markets, such as China and India.
A number of seminars were organised on the margin of the fair, the most important of which was that of the Egyptian Businessmen's Association for Tourism (EBAT), where the discussions centred on a theme that has top priority on El-Maghrabi's agenda, namely, developing the tourism awareness of Egyptian citizens. The association has adopted this as a national aim. Officials believe that developing the tourism awareness of Egyptians is the main thing that would help ensure repeat visits by foreigners.