IF the Sinai had just sandy wastes it would have been consigned among the world’s obscure spots with perhaps just the Moses connection to redeem it from oblivion.
But the Sinai also has a lengthy, shimmering coastline hemming in the warm waters of the Red Sea that brim with potential for sea-loving tourists (think scuba diving, snorkelling and wind surfing). The idyllic seaside attractions on the peninsula took a hit last year after Egypt was rocked by revolution and the tourist influx trickled down. Now word has spread there is peace in the resort enclaves and beaches and exceptional tranquility in the bays, coves and creeks, and the feeling is rife that the holidaymakers are coming back. That’s great news for Egyptians – especially for the people who run Jaz Hotels, Resorts and Cruises, a division of Egypt’s leading hospitality company Travco Group International.
Jaz Hotels, Resorts and Cruises, operating from its Giza headquarters, has over the years gathered high-profile brands to provide range and diversity. The portfolio comprises 47 properties under the Jaz, Iberotel and Sol Y Mar hotel and resort brands and a fleet of 19 Nile cruises in Egypt under the Navcotels brand.
“It’s not that the tourists had failed us,” recalls Ashraf Yehia, manager of Jaz Mirabel Beach Resort in Sharm El Sheikh. “The charter flights called off their operations despite the Sinai having been peaceful.” Indicating that the unrest occurred in the African part of Egypt, he added: “Here we’re on another continent. This is Asia.” The Sinai hotel trade is hoping foreign tourism firms will note the difference and it looks like they have.
A recent visit to Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada and Marsa Alam showed there was scope for boosting hotel occupancy while in some properties tourist activity was quite conspicuous. Tanned men and women tumbled out of coaches in the sun to get a still darker tan. The Sinai properties of the Jaz resorts group are cut out for year-round serene stays. The population of the peninsula is so sparse that across large swathes it is difficult to see a settlement. A fine example was the three-hour bus ride between Hurghada and Marsa Alam. For most of the way, you had the Red Sea on one side. All points along the way were potential resorts.
The Jaz resorts group is expanding. In the UAE it has developed a property in Fujairah and foresees greater business in the Gulf generated not only by its Fujairah presence but also by a new stream of visitors including couples and families from the region sampling its Sinai attractions. Nearly all tourists at the latter attractions are now Westerners. “We think the Sinai will attract Gulf visitors if there are flights direct to destination,” says Wael Abo-Elseoud, rooms manager, Iberotel Aquamarine Resort, Hurghada.
Abo-Elseoud points out that Iberotel Aquamarine Resort has family clubs and offers family rooms with stylish interiors. There was evidence of the family focus in his hotel as well as in Jaz’s other operations as families arrived from Europe. Jaz wants that experience to be extended to Asians and the GCC region.
Beyond the Arabian Gulf, Iberotel Aquamarine seeks to tap into the high-potential markets of China, Russia and Scandinavia. “These areas,” says Abo-Elseoud, “would provide new growth markets over the medium term.” As part of the growth strategy, the 1,001-room hotel is building a new conference room to target corporate business and incentive groups. Sprawled in front of a private beach, the property has rooms for families, couples and singles. There are 427 family rooms while another 144 are advertised as deluxe family rooms.
Across its Sinai portfolio, the Jaz resorts group has developed accommodation to match a variety of needs. The repertoire sometimes includes rooms with attached pools. At most places though, resort denizens just step out and stride to the surf or move on to facilities including diving posts. It was somewhat windy during our visit but that did not take away the fun of watching sea life bobbing in the surf from the quay.
A characteristic of the resorts is the sheer size. They are ensconced within large resort towns created by the Jaz company in the wilderness. For example, Madinat Makadi in Hurghada has 2,103 rooms and Madinat Coraya in Marsa Alam 1,245 rooms across several brands. The sprawling areas give groups and families a sense of privacy in the open. The company provides packages in terms of accommodation, dining and night clubs so the quintessential aspects of each of the brands can be shared and enjoyed within one large resort complex. A striking aspect of the company’s Sinai resorts was the absence of things jarring. The beaches are spick and span and the waters pristine, thanks to strict rules. In some hotels, repeat guests have trees planted in their honour with their name tags.
Recommended for a great experience is the Moroccan-style Iberotel Coraya Beach Resort nestling in the Marsa Alam hills and offering the delights of exquisite coral reefs and marine life. Guests can select from 364 rooms comprising 225 superior rooms, 132 deluxe family rooms and seven junior suites. Between 2000 and 2006, Italians were the largest group there but the Germans have since replaced them, says Ashraf Ayed, general manager of some of the Jaz group’s properties in the area. The Fayruz dining outlet overlooking Coraya Bay offers Mediterranean tastes. At Al Maha restaurant, the dining experience is enhanced by live cooking stations. The Aqua Park has eight slides for adults and five for kids. There is a children’s play area along with extensive spa facilities.
Another property of interest in Madinat Coraya is Sol Y Mar Solaya, described by the company as a self-contained and all-inclusive resort perfect for a family beach holiday and perfect for diving and snorkelling enthusiasts.
Among the high points of our tour was the Iberotel Makadi Beach in one of the most scenic areas of Hurghada. A sprawling resort, it boasts beaches, gardens and a variety of five-star hotels, family resorts and deluxe accommodation. In the neighbourhood are mountains and deserts that some guests might want to visit. The Makadi Water World Aqua Park is among the best in the world. There are ample facilities for boating, scuba diving and snorkelling. Guests can help themselves to a string of restaurants including the eateries Terrasina (poolside) and Nino’s (both Italian) and El Sayadeia, featuring Middle East and Mediterranean cuisines. The shopping complex is one of the attractions and well worth a visit.
Establishments in Jaz’s portfolio have bagged an array of top international awards with both the Iberotel Coraya Beach and Iberotel Makadi Beach being particularly prolific in that regard. The Iberotel brand also encompasses picturesque Sharm El Sheikh hideouts such as the Iberotel Palace with one of the longest stretches of private beachfront overlooking Maya Bay, and Iberotel IL Mercato, which opened in 2010 and, says manager Sherine Ismail, has drawn most guests from the UK. It is in the centre of the IL Mercato Promenade created by Italian renaissance expert Daniele Morelli. As well as all the trappings of a modern hotel, the 286-room property provides special facilities for kids including a daily animation programme and a kids’ club. A walk towards Nama Bay takes you to the nearby boutique-style Iberotel Lido.
Luxury properties worth considering for stays under the individual Jaz brand in Sharm El Sheikh are the Jaz Mirabel Beach and Jaz Belvedere. Jaz Mirabel is built in the Tuscan style and lies on the shores of a lagoon in Nabq Bay. Jaz Belvedere is a good example of Arabian-Moroccan architecture and has exclusive access to El Montaza Beach.
Sharm El Sheikh is on the world’s map of holiday destinations. Hurghada and Marsa Alam are catching up fast.
By Salvador Almeida
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