Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 August 2006
Issue No. 808
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Coastline attraction

From a modest local resort, Sidi Abdel-Rahman will rise as a magnificent tourist destination on the Mediterranean. Rehab Saad looks to the future

Despite picturesque beaches, clear turquoise waters and perfect weather year round, there are no real tourist facilities at the Mediterranean resort of Sidi Abdel-Rahman. Today, this tourist site on the north western coast is only home to the Sidi Abdel-Rahman Hotel and some villas run by the state-owned Egyptian General Company for Tourism and Hotels (EGOTH). But the future is bigger, brighter and more lucrative.

Last week, Emaar Misr won an auction to buy a 7km strip of prime tourism real estate on Egypt's Mediterranean coast from EGOTH. The company bid $175 million, beating Orascom Hotels and Development (OHD) -- one of the largest and most successful conglomerates in Egypt -- as well as Talaat Mustafa Group -- an Egyptian real estate investment firm. Emaar Misr will spend a further LE10 million to develop the site near Al-Alamein airport into an all-year coast attraction for international, regional and local tourism.

According to Emaar officials, the company began to carry out environmental and market studies six months earlier, before it submitted its bid to the Egyptian Holding Company for Tourism and Cinema (HOTAC). After winning the bid, officials said, the company would immediately embark on implementing a fully integrated project called Marassi. The compound will include hotels, villas, townhouses, a marina, an 18-hole golf course, shopping centres, sports facilities, spas and a heliport.

Once the land is handed over, the project is estimated to be complete in five years.

Investment Minister Mahmoud Mohieddin announced that Emaar's proposal for the land includes plans for 4,023 hotel rooms, in addition to more than 5,300 residential holiday units.

The aim of the project, according to a statement by EGOTH, is to develop the site to make it into a source of attraction for European and Arab tourists all year round by exploiting its moderate climate and beautiful shores.

Sidi Abdel-Rahman is one of Emaar Misr's four real estate development plans in Egypt, which include an integrated community in the new Smart Village, a luxury community in Moqattam, and the waterfront redevelopment project at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. EGOTH is the owner of 22 hotels and two Nile cruisers of the most renowned hotels in Egypt in Luxor, Aswan, Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, on the Red Sea and the North Coast with a capacity of about 5,000 rooms.

In the past few years, the government has paid much attention to the Egyptian Mediterranean coast, which since the early 1990s has attracted high middle class Egyptians. On average, they spend only two or three months in their residential unit -- whether an apartment or a villa. Tens of residential villages are stretched along the coast, operating only in summer and used only by locals; otherwise these resorts are almost uninhabited.

The Sidi Abdel-Rahman sale is expected to change this by attracting large numbers of higher-spending foreign tourists, especially that sections of the 450km-long Mediterranean coastline from Alexandria to Libya remain untouched. The area, according to tourist officials, could offer opportunities for desert safaris, diving excursions to sunken ships, and trips to Alexandria. In fact, Mohieddin announced that other lands on the North Coast, the Red Sea and in Sharm El-Sheikh will be sold in the same manner as Sidi Abdel-Rahman.

Mohieddin added that part of the revenue of the Sidi Abdel-Rahman sale will fund developing Egyptian historical hotels, such as Cataract in Aswan, Palestine in Alexandria, Mena House and Marriott in Cairo.

EGOTH put Sidi Abdel-Rahman on the market more than three months ago, and only three companies placed a bid. The auction, attended by Minister of Housing Ahmed El-Maghrabi, Minister of Tourism Zoheir Garana, the representatives of the three bidders, and the head of HOTAC, was monitored via closed circuit television. Officials then held closed meeting to discuss and negotiate the three offers. El-Maghrabi said that the way Sidi Abdel-Rahman land was offered and sold was characterised by "transparency".

Tourism in Egypt generates more than $7 billion a year, equivalent to almost 10 per cent of the economy, and employs one in 10 Egyptian workers. Some 8.6 million tourists visited Egypt in 2005, up six per cent from 8.1 million in 2004. Egypt also has 172,000 hotel rooms, 20,000 more than a year ago.

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