Turn on the Sharm: Egypt's heavyweight fights back

Turn on the Sharm: Egypt's heavyweight fights back


Savoy Beach Resort, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

This time last year Egypt was flying high. Brits were making for the Red Sea in their droves and Sharm el-Sheikh was the hub of all the action.
 
Following the unrest earlier this year, however, sales for this summer are about 50% down, according to UK operators, although consumer confidence is starting to pick up, largely due to travel agents reassuring clients the Red Sea is safe, plus the sensational deals around.

Egyptair, meanwhile, introduced twice-weekly flights from Heathrow on June 1 and Monarch is launching scheduled flights to Sharm three times a week from Gatwick and Manchester in November.

Local operators are going all out to boost tourism numbers, cutting room rates and offering free nights and added-value extras, including complimentary upgrades to half-board. It’s the resort’s top-end hotels that are touting the most enticing discounts, giving clients the chance to live a high life that may have been beyond their budget last summer.

“We’re noticing people aren’t necessarily looking for cheap holidays, but for good quality with added value,” says Darren Panto, sales director at Mosaic Holidays. “This is where travel agents can make money.”

Bouncing back

The general consensus is that Sharm is on the up. Hayes & Jarvis commercial director Niel Alobaidi says: “Past experience with destinations like Thailand shows how quickly popular resort areas bounce back and we wouldn’t be surprised to see Sharm regain lost ground in the months ahead.”

It certainly has no shortage of selling points. Lying on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula facing the Red Sea, flanked by desert and mountains, Sharm el-Sheikh is the undisputed daddy of Egypt’s Red Sea coast resorts. And it’s not just about the swathes of golden sand beaches that shelve gently into the clear, blue waters teeming with marine life.

“Sharm has more activities, better infrastructure, a larger range of hotels and the best developed diving facilities of the Red Sea resorts,” says Peter Cox, product manager for Egypt at Classic Collection. “And it’s offering amazing value, especially in comparison to Turkey.”

With demand certain to rise, prices won’t remain low indefinitely, so it’s the perfect time to suggest Sharm to clients who are eager to try somewhere new or after luxury for less. “I’d also suggest that if agents are finding the Canaries busy, they could try to switch-sell,” Cox adds.

While some may be happy just to top up their tan poolside while reading a good book, there’s plenty to do in Sharm. Attraction World alone offers 23 excursions from Sharm – all of which are fully commissionable. And with so many low-cost holidays on offer in Sharm this summer, clients should have cash left to splash out on extra activities.

Spectacular diving

A recent Cheapflights.co.uk survey rated Sharm among the world’s top 10 dive sites, with a year-on-year rise in popularity among scuba lovers of 14%. Aside from the coral reefs that are home to rays and turtles, Sharm has great wreck diving including the Thistlegorm, a Second World War military supply ship that has much of its cargo intact.

For the marine life there’s an upside to the tourism downturn.  Blanka Siejek, senior marketing executive at Longwood, says: “The reefs, experiencing a break from mass tourism, are in amazing condition, with clients reporting lots of rare sightings.”

For visitors who’d prefer to look at the pretty fish without getting wet, there are glass-bottom boat trips and the new Seascope, a submarine-style craft that takes you along the seabed in air-conditioned comfort. 

Divers in Sharm el-Sheikh

Golf and spas

Sharm’s 18-hole, championship course at the Jolie Ville Golf Resort Hotel is set around 18 lakes, with the Sinai mountains as its backdrop. The hotel itself boasts Egypt’s largest water park, a kids’ clubs and a spa, making it ideal for families.

Other quality spa venues worth checking out include the Ritz-Carlton, which has 10 treatment rooms and offers Red Sea Salt scrubs and Cleopatra baths. Alternatively, the spa at the Grand Rotana Resort has an Ancient Egypt theme, and its Nefertari Citrus Scrub uses sunflower seeds, oatmeal and orange peel.

Desert fun

The Sinai Desert surrounding Sharm is essentially a huge adventure playground. Visitors can enjoy sunset camel and horse-riding treks, quad biking across the dunes and sunrise hikes to Mount Sinai’s peak, where Moses was said to have received the 10 commandments.

The latest activity is sandboarding, which is like snowboarding but goes down dunes instead of snow.

Active types now have the chance to hike through the White Canyon, with its bleached limestone rocks, and the Coloured Canyon, with its varying shades
of sandstone, while those who prefer to kick back can see the same on four wheels. And then as day turns to night, clients can take in a Bedouin evening, with stargazing and belly dancing thrown in for good measure.

The nearest ancient site is the 6th century St Catherine’s Monastery, thought to be the site of the burning bush mentioned in the Bible. Farther afield, trips to Cairo, a 40-minute flight away, are selling well, according to operators. “The message about having the Sphinx pretty much to yourself got out quite successfully,” says Longwood’s Siejek.

Location, location

While Sharm is noticeably quiet across the resort at the moment, clients seeking to be at the heart of the action will find Naama Bay has the lion’s share of pubs, clubs and restaurants. This is also where most of the dive centres are located. In contrast, Nabq Bay is more low-key, slightly more upmarket and, with an emphasis on restaurants rather than nightlife, is a good choice for families.

Award-winning Soho Square, a modern leisure complex at White Knight Bay, was voted the world’s leading entertainment centre at last year’s World Travel Awards. Its upscale bars, clubs, international restaurants and designer shopping are a big draw. A central fountain adds a touch of glamour, plus there’s bowling, an ice rink and even an ice bar to check out.

Still not convinced? In that case hear what Philip Breckner, director of Discover Egypt, has to say: “From a client’s perspective this is the best time to go. Sharm’s excellent value and the lack of crowds means visitors receive doubly good and personalised service.”

Sample packages

Classic Collection Holidays offers seven nights’ B&B at the five-star Savoy Resort in a Diplomatic Suite from £1,482, based on two sharing. The price, for August 16 departures, includes flights from Gatwick and private transfers, and represents a saving of £504 per couple. classic-collection.co.uk, 0800 008 7288

Longwood Holidays offers seven nights’ all-inclusive at the five-star Maritim Jolie Ville Royal Peninsula from £689 per person based on two sharing. The price is for August 18 departures and includes flights from Gatwick and transfers. Guests will also enjoy free golf until August 31. longwoodholidays.co.uk, 0844 770 4877

Mosaic Holidays offers seven nights’ B&B at the five-star Four Seasons from £999 per person based on two sharing. The price includes flights from Gatwick, private transfers and $100 of resort credit per room per night for up to six nights for stays completed by October 14. mosaicholidays.co.uk, 020 8574 4000

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