Egyptian tourism in the face of climate changes: what to expect?

Red sea coral reefs suffering bleaching. Photo by DW.

On a long-awaited beach vacation, a regular person would be looking forward to spending exotic time snorkeling, taking an underwater submarine tour, or simply sitting by the sea under the summer’s dazzling sun. Unfortunately, this ravishing image could be completely gone, across the globe, in less than 80 years, due to rapid ecosystem changes caused by climate change, and this fact comes as a shock to the tourism industry. Tourism is extremely vital in the economies of many countries. Sadly, the world will see a global temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century, according to the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP’s) Emissions Gap Report 2021, which means that some islands and beaches will be gone, and that will directly impact tourism in many areas across the globe, and climate action becomes crucial at this point to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

In Egypt, climate change is most reflected in severe weather fluctuations, for example a significant increase in rainfall that leads to floods, as was the case in Alexandria in 2015, in addition to cold winds in winter, and intense heat very early in the summer.
Another aspect of climate change in Egypt is the rise in sea level. This phenomenon was supposed to happen gradually over the course of 30 years. However, as early as 2019, a rise in sea level caused an increase in the salinization of the northern lands in the Nile delta.

On the red seacoast, is the golden town of Dahab, where the turquoise water gives sanctuary to thousands of fascinating sea creatures. It is a top destination for nature-loving tourists who are looking for sea adventures. Water sport activities bring Egypt about $7 billion annual revenues, 86 percent of which comes from coral reef tourism alone, according to Daily News Egypt.
Egypt’s ecotourism has already borne the brunt of climate change. Egypt’s Red Sea coral reefs, which make up slightly over 5 percent of the world’s total, are at risk of “bleaching” due to increasing sea temperatures and acidification – a direct effect of a rising temperature and climate change, according to a Research Gate study.

Tourism contributes up to 15 percent of Egypt’s GDP, and is a major source of the country’s foreign exchange. Reef tourism is an industry that is alone worth $36 billion a year, and it could be facing over 90 percent losses by the year 2100.
Egypt is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the repercussions of climate change, despite its limited contribution to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In 2015, Egypt contributed only by 0.6 percent to global emissions, which is a rather small percentage, said Egyptian Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly during the recent World Youth Forum’s session on climate change, according to Al-Bawaba News.

Researchers warn that Egypt, among a number of other coastal countries, such as Mexico, Indonesia, Maldives, Malaysia, Australia and Thailand, risks losing more than 90 percent of its income from coral reef tourism if serious action is not taken to tackle global warming emissions rise, according to Scientific American.

Mohamed Shams is a diving instructor and owner of ‘Shams Hotel and Diving Center’ in Dahab. His hotel has been welcoming guests since 2006, and about 75 percent of them are interested in diving and snorkeling.

Constantly going on diving trips and observing the marine life in various areas in Egypt’s Red Sea, Shams said that coastal cities visited by a smaller number of people every year, like Marsa Allam for example, tend to have a richer marine life, and this is clearly seen in their coral reefs. On the other hand, he noticed a significant decline in the quality of coral reefs in Dahab, compared to 20 years ago when he first arrived to the small town. “There are several reasons why nature could be changing in some areas. Some are directly caused by people, and others by nature, like the weather, which has noticeably become more extreme over the years,” he said. However, Shams believes that despite everything, the sea temperature in Dahab remains fairly right for the reefs to thrive under the right circumstances, and any substantial climate changes will most certainly disrupt this sensitive habitat, eventually leading to less tourist interest in the enticing underwater sceneries, or altogether changing the nature of the tourists visiting the destination.

When he first heard about the serious effects of global warming 25 years ago, Mohamed Shams wasn’t sure these effects were going to be tangible so soon. “When I look back at the last 7 years, I see changes, and I worry. It’s hard to tell what’s coming, but some changes are definitely on the horizon, and they will come with consequences,” he said.
Osama Mohamed, the reception manager at ‘Bedouin Lodge’ in Dahab, who has lived in the Red Sea governorate for over 15 years and has been organizing group trips to and from Dahab, says that this is a critical time for tourism in Egypt. “COVID-19 has had a major impact on the occupancy rates, so it is hard to get an accurate measurement of the tourist demand right now, or the exact causes for the current decline, but several constants remain an attraction for tourists here, like the stable weather (even with the recent phenomenon of extremely cold winters and hot summers) and other activities that tend to attract a different kind of tourist looking for desert fun, like the International Camel Racing festival taking place these days in Nuweiba before it moves to Sharm El-Sheikh. This keeps tourism on its feet,” Mohamed said.

Egyptian Minister of Environment, Yasmin Fouad, said that coral reefs bleaching will soon affect Egypt as a tourist destination, which, in turn, will affect the hard currency and the national economy. A recent study indicated that this phenomenon will put the Red Sea at the bottom of tourist destinations in the world. “Climate change has made cold places warmer, and warm places hotter, and this calls for great efforts by the state to preserve this natural wealth,” according to a statement by the Minister on the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency website.

Aware of the magnitude of the issue, the Egyptian government has been taking part in the global initiatives and negotiations to tackle the issue. It participated in the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, UK in 2021, where countries reached agreements and made pledges regarding the issues of emissions, coal use, and fossil fuel subsidies, as well as other topics. At the summit, Egyptian President Abdelfattah El-Sisi announced that Egypt has adopted a sustainable development model aimed at growing government green projects to 50 percent by 2025 and 100 percent by 2030. Egypt will also be hosting the upcoming COP27 in November 2022.

Hala El-Said, Minister of Planning and Economic Development, said that Africa and the Middle East will continue to suffer from repercussions that outweigh their adaptation abilities. These repercussions include the rising temperature and sea level, as well as unforeseeable weather changes and phenomena. The Egyptian state, however, has been working to integrate the issue of climate change into its national plan for development. It has introduced updates to its sustainable development strategy “Egypt Vision 2030” to respond to new challenges, including climate change, among others.
Egypt’s tourism revenues were estimated to be $4 billion in H1 2021, and over $13 billion in the whole year, according to Al Arabiya. It received about 3.5 million tourists in January-June 2021, according to Deputy Minister of Tourism Ghada Shalaby, Reuters reported.

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