Rebels with a tourist cause

 

ETHICAL TRAVELLER: CATHERINE MACKon responsible tourism

‘SHARM IS BACK!” boasts one package holiday company, with special offers to stay at a plethora of resorts along Egypt’s famous “fly and flop” Red Sea coast. Many of the resorts are still empty, but as the tourist thirst for “I don’t care where it is, just get me a beach” holiday starts to rise, and Sharm prices continue to fall, our fervent support for Egyptian democracy reverts to a fickle desire for sun.

Because this sort of tourism is about as undemocratic as it comes, it is ironic that ousted Hosni Mubarak is currently, according to newspaper reports, enjoying the same Red Sea views from his compound, surrounded by gates and security guards beside one of Sharm el Sheikh’s golf resorts. With his assets frozen until Egypt assesses how to start again and create a fairer, more open society, he will soon be able to watch the region’s internationally-funded resorts overrun by tourists once again.

I don’t resent anyone wanting to go and collapse by a pool for a fortnight and, indeed, few people want to even think about politics when they are on holiday. But as many of us support this movement of human awakening around North Africa and the Middle East, it is no longer possible, or right, to ignore it on our travels.

A lot of the responsibility for change in tourism lies with government and policymakers, of course. It is not our fault that mega resorts were built, where deprived and exploited communities watched on, bemused and disempowered. Let’s hope new regimes respond to their peoples’ cries, and also address the destructive impacts of mass, unsustainable and unfair tourism.

But in the meantime, the responsible tourism movement is growing from niche to norm. If ever there was a time to show yourself as what Jost Krippendorf, in his superb book The Holiday Makers, calls a “rebellious tourist”, this is it. We can take a stand against the culturally barren, economically unbeneficial and ecologically disastrous tourism products and create what Krippendorf calls a “humanisation of travel”.

In countries of political unrest, one should always check the travel advisory at the Department of Foreign Affairs (dfa.ie), but Egypt, at least, is open for business again. After this, consider the “rebellious” approach and check out holidays with companies such as Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com), which has a wide range of holidays with a responsible travel ethos, from the family felucca trip on the Nile, to a beach holiday at Dahab on the Sinai peninsula.

As well as representing some of the mainstream resorts, WHL Travel (whl.travel) also supports several community-led, ecotourism enterprises in Egypt. Its operations manager Mervat Lotfy says: “Life is gradually getting back to normal and 90 per cent of Egyptians are back at work. People are just so motivated to rebuild Egypt. We are just waiting for the whole world to come and visit old and new Egypt.”

Responsibletravel.com has a wide variety of holidays ranging from a Bedouin adventure holiday in the Sinai desert to swimming with dolphins at an eco resort on the Red Sea. Hardcore rebels can go straight to grassroots and visit the extraordinary ecotourism enterprises such as that run by Jebeliya Bedouins at the city of St Katherine (st-katherine.net) in the South Sinai, offering a great choice of hiking trips and desert camps, or the stunning Basata eco beach camps on the Red Sea, with chalets from €70 per night (basata.com).

Like so many developing countries, Egypt is culturally diverse, with ancient heritage which is so easy to ignore when stuck behind resort gates, with nothing but a golf club and a deposed dictator as neighbours. So, just as we support the people who fought for freedom from our sofas, so must we support them on our travels and start swimming with the dolphins, not just the sharks.

* Blog at ethicaltraveller.net and follow Catherine on twitter.com/catherinemack