Last week I wrote about the 250km stretch of Egypt’s sparsely inhabited north Mediterranean coast west of Alexandria, which had in the 1980s and 1990s been divided into plots of land and sold to developers who erected on them more than 150 holiday resorts. The units in these resorts were sold to private owners who used them as summer holiday houses; the outcome being that this huge area came to vivid life during the three or four summer holiday months, but was left desolate during the remaining part of the year. Investment experts saw this as a huge waste of prime natural resource.
Attempts to pull the north coast out of its winter hibernation and rescue the wasted tourist investment largely failed, that is until a few years ago. Among these attempts was one that explored the possibility of attracting foreign tourism to the region, especially in winter. Tourists from cold places such as North Europe, Asia and America could be lured by the mild weather and serene beaches of Egypt’s north coast all through winter, except during the few storms, known as nawwa, plural nawwaat, which occur at specific well-known days every year, and are denoted on weather charts. Winter tourism would have complemented the thriving summer activity on the coast; the all year round tourism could bring in revenue for Egypt, and provide sustainable job opportunities. This initiative was neither a novelty nor was it far-fetched; tourism in the south coast of the Mediterranean always thrived in Tunisia and Morocco. But it of course required hotels.
Two factors made hotel investment difficult in the north coast. First, most of the land sold to real estate developers was already occupied by holiday homes ranging in size from small flats to large villas sold to private owners. Very little land was left to accommodate hotels. Experts thus came up with the idea of resorting to “Timeshare” which had been popular worldwide for a very long time. Timeshare systems market privately owned non-hotel units through travel agencies or timeshare clubs. Owners who wish to place their houses on the tourist market can do so through timeshare systems, while specifying the weeks they wish to retain them for personal use. They benefit from the income timesharing brings, and travel or timeshare agencies share in the profit or get a commission. Naturally, resorts interested in timesharing had to comply with international timeshare qualifications, including architectural and furnishing standards, in addition to promoting beach and entertainment activities, and focusing on the aesthetic side of the resorts.
The outcome of the timeshare initiative was disappointing. Most landlords and resort administrations refused the constraints of the timeshare system and preferred to keep their houses closed two-thirds of the year, even though this meant that their holiday homes, which were ravaged by the harsh weathering of the seaside humid climate, were deprived of the periodic hotel maintenance they would have been ensured through timesharing. More importantly, Egypt’s tourism industry and national revenue were deprived of a sustainable source of income.
The north coast thus returned to its periodic desolation until an answer came three decades later through the ambitious megaproject launched by President Sisi in 2018: New Alamein City, which I consider the ultimate urban and developmental conciliation between the coast’s private touristic nature and its wider investment needs. But what are the auspicious features of this promising project?
New Alamein City is built over 50,000 feddans; it has been planned to host areas for business, housing and services, in addition to an arts and culture centre, entertainment activities which include an amphitheatre, an opera house, cinema complexes, a central library and a centre for development of artisanal crafts. New Alamein also boasts of a 14 km beach with an attractive meandering walkway.
Alamein International University was built in the new city; it has partnered with several prominent international universities to attract students to acquire dual university degrees.
These ambitious features qualify the new city to absorb some 2 million residents, and to serve as the nucleus of sustainable development in the north coast, generating viable job opportunities all year round.
6 August 2021