The recent decisions to open and close Sharm El-Sheikh's beaches have caused confusion for tour operators, tourists and domestic travellers alike.
Following last month's shark attacks in the Red Sea resort, Egyptian authorities declared city's beaches closed. After the danger was declared over, the beaches were reopened. Recently the beaches of Sharm El-Sheiklh were closed again.
In order to explain the closing and opening of the beaches, the South Sinai Hotels Chamber recently organised a meeting that included top tour operators, tourist officials and South Sinai governorate officials. South Sinai Governor Major General Mohamed Abdel Fadeel Shousha declared that all of Sharm's beaches were open for swimming. However, snorkelling would be banned in the area north of Neama Bay until Ras Nosrani.
“This situation will continue until all technical studies, topographic surveys of the area, and surveys of the sea bottom are executed by the researchers of the Suez Canal Authority. These experts from several fields are examining ways to secure the area in order that snorkelling can resume."
“Also,” the governor announced, “all commercial vessels that enter or pass by Sharm El-Sheikh will have to be accompanied by Egyptian officials until they [exit Egyptian national waters] so as to make sure they don’t throw dead animals, waste or harmful substances [into the Red Sea].”
Shousha declared that procedures and penalties would be applied in order to ensure the safety of visitors, including banning the disposal of waste into the sea and of fish feeding by diving centres, hotels and tourists. Fines for violations could reach $50,000 for hotels and diving centres. Tourists could be fined up to $15,000.
The penalty for diving boats throwing waste into the sea or allowing clients to feed the fish would range from suspending their business from a month to six months, to withdrawal of license in case of reoccurring violations. “We will also work hard to stop excessive fishing as this has a negative impact on marine life,” Shousha said.
Hisham Zazou, first assistant to the minister of tourism, told Ahram Online that foreign experts brought in by the Ministry of Tourism to investigate the reasons behind the shark attacks in Sharm El-Sheikh said that the main reason was tourists feeding the fish, which attracted the sharks to the shore. Coral reefs are also naturally attractive to sharks.
“For that reason, snorkelling and not diving was forbidden in some of the beaches, as there is a possibility of feeding the fish. Also, most of the beaches that were closed are the ones that have coral reefs,” Zazou said.
Sharm El-Sheikh's hotels are now working to raise awareness among tourists on preserve the natural marine environment. Ahmed Balba, head of the South Sinai Hotels Chamber, said the body distributed some 200,000 posters among hotels, in rooms and receptions, highlighting the negative impact of feeding fish and the importance of preserving the marine environment.
“The occupancy rate in Sharm El-Sheikh is currently 65 percent and it is expected to grow in the coming period. We are working hard with tour operators to remove all misunderstanding regarding the opening and closing of beaches,” Balba explained.
Zazou believes that the negative impact of the attacks on tourism will be temporary, adding that he doesn’t think domestic tourism will be affected as Egyptians, for the most part, do not take to the water in winter.