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Thu 15 May 2008 04:00 AM

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Ancient future

The development of Egypt's leisure industry beyond its famous cultural attractions will be significant in growing visitor numbers.

The development of Egypt's leisure industry beyond its famous cultural attractions will be significant in growing visitor numbers.

Although quite rightly famous for its ancient history and cultural attractions, Egypt has some hidden leisure offerings that industry leaders are keen to promote.

Pyramids and camels aside, there is a great deal more that Egypt can offer, according to deputy director general of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, Manal Hosny.

"The 22% increase in visitors during 2007 can be explained by a number of factors. Egypt is placed centrally between a number of core markets including Europe, the Middle East and Asia," Hosny explains.

"We expect that by 2010 we will see 12 to 13 million visitors a year in Egypt."

And with the expansion of resorts in Egypt, Hosny envisages further growth within the leisure industry.

"New resorts are fuelling expansion in places like Port Ghalib, Sharm El Sheikh, Luxor, and El Gouna. Luxury hotels are bringing with them spas, swimming pools and golf courses," Hosny explains.

"The more facilities, the greater attraction for visitors," she adds.

Senior director of business development for Hilton in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon & Africa, Azza Serry, agrees with Hosny.

"The challenge is to come up with more rooms and new destinations to avoid running into 100% occupancy," she says.

"We need to focus more on quality and upgrade our services," Serry adds.

There is also a suggestion that more attractions need to be developed to capture the return market.

"Good growth exists today, but as a leisure customer you are always looking for something different, something new, for your next holiday," she explains.

"You want to keep the Egyptian sun, but change the resort, so we are developing places such as Marsalam and Sahl Hasheesh to maintain interest and keep tourists coming back,' Serry adds.

But it is not just the tourist market that is helping growth, according to Serry.

"The culture is very attractive to a growing local market. It's quite a commercial market and the spend there is quite strong," Serry explains.

Spending in sports

According to Serry, investors are becoming especially interested in the spa, diving and golf markets in Egypt.

"Golf mainly appeals to the expatriate community and Egyptian business community, but it is growing into Egyptian families and into a weekend hobby," Serry says.

"Friends and couples meet at the clubs and have a round of golf. It's not an Egyptian thing yet, but there is certainly a noticeable growth," she concludes.Some of the growth in the golf market can be attributed to proactive marketing according to golf manager at Cascades golf club in Soma Bay, Major Monsour.

"We are starting to communicate with Europe and the Gulf in terms of what we are offering for golf enthusiasts.

"In July we hold our Pan Arab Open Amateur Golf Championship and we have opened it up to European as well as Arabian nationals," Monsour says.

There has also been a drive to create different competition groups to attract everyone including seniors, women and children.

"Last year we had around 150 players, but this year we are expecting a lot more. We have 15 staff in administration and 75 staff to facilitate this growth.

"We have the 18 hole course designed by Gary Player and a nine hole short course to maintain so in order to ensure quality I train all the staff myself ," he adds.

But there is a challenge in the upkeep of a course that has just been ranked the number one international course in the world by readers of Golf Journal magazine.

"The challenge is being situated right next to the shore. Maintaining the greens when the wind blows is quite something, but apart from that I have little to worry about," Monsour concludes.

In the next two years Cascades is looking to add an extra 18 holes due to demand.

The Egyptian Federation of Golf is also looking to secure the future of golf by creating youth academies.

Like golf, diving is proving to be a core aspect of Egypt's leisure industry.

Marketing manager of Divers' Lodge, Hurghada, Harriet Messing, has seen the progression of technical diving as a major factor in growth.

"Increasingly we are seeing people who want to take part in technical diving whether it's a night diving course or a nitrox diving course," she explains.

"Using nitrox allows people to dive longer leaving them less tired, meaning they can do three or four dives a day, a real advantage to someone on a week-long trip," she says.

"But they need to do a two-day training course as it can be toxic if incorrectly used. Therefore staff training is a constant and essential process," she adds.

Messing explains that because of shoreline developments they have had to increasingly rely on boats to do offshore dives, which in turn raises the green issue.

"People are more concerned with the green issue and underwater biology is becoming an area of interest," she explains.

"Clients want to know more about how things work and what they are seeing. But I'm not sure how far the government will go on it. I think we need to be more aware in terms of sustainable development," Messing concludes.

Working on wellness

Fitness as a standalone market is becoming increasingly popular, according to Taymour Ahmed, general manager of Gold's Gym Lagoon Alex in Alexandria.

"With media attention, fitness is becoming very popular across Egypt," he says.

The last two years have seen particularly aggressive expansion in the fitness market.

"Each of our seven gyms has on average 2000 members and the demand is rising. We are going to be opening four more gyms in the next two years," Ahmed explains.However, Ahmed explains that the interest in health and fitness hasn't been replicated within schools.

"Schools and colleges are very weak in terms of health and fitness," he says.

"The biggest expansion is seen in the increasing number of gyms and sports clubs. Within these establishments, more and more children are being taken by their parents," he adds.

"When people try the gym and they keep coming for a month they love it. After a few months it becomes a habit and they come at least three times a week,' explains Ahmed.

"There is also a real growing interest from tourists who visit the resorts and they account for about 30% of our gym usage," Ahmed adds.

The focus on looking after yourself and the increasing number of luxury resorts in Egypt has also fuelled interest in spa offerings.

Although the spa industry is in its infancy in Egypt, it is a country that has a history of healing and beauty.

It is for this reason that the executive director of spas Europe, Africa & Middle East for Fairmont Raffles Hotels International (FRHI), Melanie Wendeler, is excited about Egypt as a spa destination of choice.

"FRHI is excited about the growth opportunities in Egypt. The luxury hotel guest is expecting there to be a spa, it has become a necessity rather than an amenity, so as FRHI opens new hotels, 90% of the time or more a spa component will be included," she says.

The Fairmont Nile City, FRHI's latest hotel in Egypt, aims to be the premier hotel in the city and its Willow Stream Spa brand will be an incredibly important contributing factor to this.

Rather than purely catering for corporate and business clients, companies are increasingly looking to attract residents as a way of securing revenue during quieter periods.

"In an urban spa, many hotel guests are conducting business or attending meetings during the day, so local clientele who are perhaps more flexible with their time help us to fill quieter times. Locals also bring a great energy to the spa," explains Wendeler.

With the layout of the spa complete, Wendeler is looking for locally sourced products and treatments.

"Some are inspired by local traditions, plants and herbs, others are designed for specific results like stress relief. Some are just pure pampering," she adds.

Furthermore, many of the staff will be sourced locally.

"We fully expect that a large number of positions will be filled by Egyptians and we will be actively recruiting for other positions within the spa over the next few months," says Wendeler.

But there are challenges associated with operating in a relatively new market.

"Availability of high quality spa products that are not already in every other luxury spa will prove to be one of our biggest challenges," explains Wendeler.

New attractions

While cultural attractions such as The Pyramids of Giza, Alabaster Mosque of Muhammed Ali and Egyptian Museum will continue to provide major draws for tourists, there is a move now to meeting the leisure needs of the local market.One company attempting to establish a new tradition in terms of attractions is the Majid Al Futtaim Group (MAF).

With six major projects in Egypt, the group responsible for the Mall of the Emirates and Ski Dubai is attempting to emulate the success of these Dubai-based developments in Egypt.

According to senior development manager for MAF, Karl Diskoros, many of the issues are the same.

"There is an increased demand for family outings, but outside can get very hot."

"Shopping malls are increasingly a one-stop-shop where people can enjoy the comfort of a cool environment," he says.

Central to the in-mall entertainment is the Magic Planet zone catering for younger children and teenagers.

"Magic Planet features rides, games, video machines, bumper cars, billiards and lots of other attractions," Diskoros explains.

But with the amount of rides comes a greater health and safety issue.

"We take a leading role in providing training for all the staff and new recruits. We have a separate department that manages that side of things well," he says.

The Magic Planet developments may well pave the way for larger projects from the attractions and amusement industries.

There have been reports in the media of a theme park called Gods and Pharaohs being designed by Saturn Projects for a site on the Red Sea.

Saturn Projects CEO, Andrew Winterbottom, would not comment on the development at the time of going to press. However, the theme park is believed to be inspired by Egyptian mythology, with water rides set to be the main attraction for thrill seeking visitors.

Perhaps this is a sign of one approach Egypt's leisure industry in general could take. Highlighting the past while looking to the future may well be the key to securing Egypt as the destination of choice.

Round-up of Egyptian coursesMena House Golf Course: Situated 700 metres from the Pyramid of Cheops.

Cascades Golf Resort & Country Club: Designed by golfing legend Gary Player.

TabaHeightsGolf Resort: Offers views of three countries.

Jolie Ville Mövenpick Golf & Resort: The Bermuda grass course has 18 lakes which attract a variety of exotic birds.

The Golf Club at El Gouna: Aimed at every level of golfer.

Sporting Club Golf Course Alexandria: Has four restaurants to choose from in its clubhouse.

The Gezira Club: At 111 years old, is the oldest golf course in Egypt.

ThePyramidsGolfandCountryClub: Made up of three 9-hole courses which get progressively more difficult.

TheMirageCityGolfCourse: Beverage and food service offered on the course.

KatameyaHeightsGolf & Tennis Resort: Facilities include a swimming pool, health spa and fitness centre.

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