This recognition not only celebrates their timeless beauty but also acknowledges their commitment to sustainable tourism practices and their contribution to Egypt's rich cultural heritage.
The UNWTO has announced its list of Best Tourism Villages 2023 today during the 25th General Assembly meeting. The accolade recogonizes villages that lead the world in nurturing rural areas and preserving landscapes, cultural diversity, local values, and culinary traditions.
In this third edition, 54 villages from all across the world were selected from almost 260 applications, while a further 20 villages have joined the Upgrade Programme. All 74 villages are now part of the UNWTO Best Tourism Villages Network.
“Tourism can be a powerful force for inclusivity, empowering local communities and distributing benefits across regions," emphasizes UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. "This initiative acknowledges villages that have harnessed tourism as a catalyst for their development and well-being," he added.
The Best Tourism Villages Initiative was launched by UNWTO in 2021, as part of the UNWTO Tourism for Rural Development Programme. This Programme works to foster development and inclusion in rural areas, combat depopulation, advance innovation and value chain integration through tourism and encourage sustainable practices.
The villages are evaluated under nine key areas: Cultural and Natural Resources; Promotion and Conservation of Cultural Resources; Economic Sustainability; Social Sustainability; Environmental Sustainability; Tourism Development and Value Chain Integration; Governance and Prioritization of Tourism; Infrastructure and Connectivity; Health, Safety, and Security.
According to the UNWTO website, the initiative comprises three pillars. The first is the UNWTO Best Tourism Villages which recognizes outstanding rural tourism destinations with accredited cultural and natural assets, a commitment to preserving community-based values, and to innovation and sustainability across economic, social, and environmental dimensions.
The second pillar is the UNWTO Best Tourism Villages Upgrade Programme, which supports villages on their journey to meet recognition criteria, helping in areas identified as gaps during evaluation.
The third is the Best Tourism Villages Network, a space for exchanging experiences and good practices, learning, and opportunities among its members. It is open to contributions from experts and public and private sector partners who promote tourism as a driver for rural development.
"This prestigious award is expected to elevate the international profiles of both villages, drawing more travellers seeking authentic cultural experiences and responsible travel practices,” said Ghada Shalaby, Vice Minister of Tourism and Antiquities.
Shalaby added that Egypt has now two villages on the program's upgradee list: Fuwa in the Nile Delta, listed in 2021, and Saint Catherine in South Sinai in 2023.
Adel El-Guindy, Director General of Strategy at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities who received the awards, said that the ministry's efforts to develop Dahshur rural tourist destination began in 2013 in cooperation with the UNWTO.
Together, they rehabilitated the tourism infrastructure of Dahshur, and implemented a training program for 3,400 members of the local community.
The program included several workshops on different topics, such as the importance of tourism to the national economy; simplified English language for Dahshur locals to facilitate dealing with visitors; managing solid waste, tourism activities and visitor services; micro, small and medium tourism projects; and the local rural tourism extension program.
The Ministry's work team, El-Guindy asserted, has also assisted the International Labour Organization (ILO) in establishing five local NCOs specialized in tourism and a forum for local economic development to communicate with governmental agencies.
It also trained locals in the manufacture of handicrafts, such as palm products, which provides job opportunities for youth and women in Dahshur.
“The ministry has also prepared an environmental study to protect the rural character of Dahshur as an important resource for forms of specialized tourism, namely rural tourism and bird watching,” he said.
As for Siwa Oasis, he explained that the ministry has worked to standardize environmental facilities in the oasis and ecolodges to manage development and ensure enjoyable experiences for visitors.
Saint Catherine's designation as a village to be upgraded by the UNWTO comes in parallel with its ongoing "Great Transfiguration" development project, planned to make the city as an important destination for spiritual tourism and a model of interreligious harmony and love.