Regarded as one of the world’s best diving locations, Sharm el-Sheikh once enjoyed a booming marine tourism industry. In 2008, numbers were at their peak, with around 100,000 divers certified each year.
But Egypt’s last turbulent decade has impacted heavily on business. Following the revolution in 2011 and the Russian plane explosion in 2015, visitor numbers started to decline. The final blow happened in 2016, when the UK banned flights to the resort town on the Sinai Peninsula.
In October, however, that flight ban was lifted, and operators are rushing to return. TUI will resume flights in February 2020 and specialist dive operator Regaldive is promoting tours once again.
According to specialists from PADI (Professional Association Of Diving Instructors), next year could be the best time to visit, and give the industry a much-needed boost.
“The decline started in 2016 after the flight crash,” says PADI regional manager Ahmed Sayed. “People had other options, so Greece and Turkey benefited.
“A lot of the hotels were up for sale, many dive centres went out of business and instructors left. Most centres used to run 14-15 boats each day with 50-60 divers. Now they offer only one.”
Although economically damaging, reduced tourism footfall has had a positive environmental impact.
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Dolphins. Ras Mohammed. Sharm El Sheikh. Meeting with dolphins, short and joyful!😀😀😀 #marinephotography #redsea #dive_photography #scubadiving #diving #diving_photography #scuba #redsea #egypt #sea #underwater #underwater_world #underwaterphotographer #marinephotography #sealife #water_shots #fish #rasmohamed #instafish #instadiving #instamarine #dolphins #travel #travelphotography #instadolphin #adventuretime #adventure #dolphin #delphin #delfino #イルカ #men_element
“It gave the Red Sea a chance to recover,” explains Sayed. “In Egypt, they are environmentally aware, but having 20 boats on the same dive sites will always have an effect.”
Now, he says the sites are better than ever.
“It’s much cleaner for a start and we have more species than we did before. For example, we hardly heard of whale sharks in Sharm and now we see them almost weekly. There are more dolphins and the reef is a lot more colourful.”
Committed to maintaining the health of the Red Sea, authorities have also introduced new regulations allowing only certified divers to go out on boat dives and restricting learner and ‘try’ divers to the shore.
Yet this is still one of the best places to learn to dive.
“Visibility is consistently good and there is always clear water,” says Jonas Samuelsson, PADI EMEA territory director. “The water temperature is warm and there’s not really any current. Add that to the number of very experienced instructors, who are now returning, and it’s a brilliant place to learn.”
Price, too, is likely to draw in tourists. Discounting by dive centres and hotels is also likely to continue in 2020.
The main appeal, however, is the destination itself, which will be much easier to reach.
As Sayed says: “People come here for Ras Mohammad National Park and the wrecks. We have some of the best diving in the world.”
For more information on learning to dive, visit padi.com.