Story | 03 Aug, 2016

Public Private Partnership for Ecotourism Development in Wadi el Gemal National Park in Egypt

By: Mahmoud Sarhan (CEESP member)

Egypt has developed an effective protected area system with significant investments in the development of staff capacity and protected area information, plans and infrastructure. The prevailing tourism model, particularly in the national parks, are mass tourism activities (e.g. bus tours in the park) that do not create substantial income for the local communities living in and around the park, nor contribute to the protection of the park’s biodiversity. Wadi el Gemal national Park is the third largest national park in the Arabian Desert and was officially declared a national park in 2003, including an area of 4,770 km2 of land and 2,000 km2 of marine waters. Due to its delta, its mountainous landscape, its 120 km of Red Sea coastline as well as its extensive coral reefs, it counts as one of the most beautiful national parks in Egypt. Wadi el Gemal is the home of about 7,000 Bedouins from the Ababda tribe which mostly live on shepherding camels, sheep and goats. Tourism activities do not significantly contribute to their income. The park’s tourism infrastructure is poorly developed, and locally produced sustainable ecotourism products are not offered. The park hardly generates any income and faces growing environmental problems such as increasing waste disposals in the park’s region and on the coastline. Also, any visitor information system is completely missing within the park, thus visitors and even locals are not aware that they are visiting a fragile protected area. Especially untouched nature and marine biodiversity are the main attractions for the hotels and resorts in Wadi el Gemal National Park and the surrounding Marsa Alam area.

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Photo: Alberto Siliotti

It was crucial to advocate for a well-maintained Wadi el Gemal National Park offering unique authentic local tourism products would be an “USP “(unique selling proposition) for the region, attracting a different, nature and culture oriented target group, replacing cheap all-inclusive mass tourism.

To reach that target, a public-private-partnership (PPP) project (  ‘July 2014 – July 2016’ between Wadi el Gemal National Park, Gorgonia Beach Resort in Marsa Alam, Egypt (  and DEG - KFW Development Bank to develop the ecotourism business in the area and promote the Park as an ecotourism destination for international tourists. The project is managed by Mr.Johannes Girardi (Project Manager, Gorgonia Beach) and Mr. Mahmoud Sarhan (Program Officer), in collaboration with Mr.Mohamed Gad (the Park manager). The main target of the Ecotourism PPP is to develop the framework conditions for the commercial and sustainable development of ecotourism services based on the ecological and socio-cultural resources of the Park and distributed through a privately and public run ecotourism business within the park area and thus encounter the slow deterioration of the national park.

The initiative successfully managed to enhance local capacities and policy frameworks to support ecotourism through partnerships. A thematic participatory workshops and on site visits with the relevant cooperation partners and local stakeholders were conducted to propose and discuss the feasible ecotourism products and to define the suitable areas in the park. On site experts missions were conducted to evaluate the ecotourism potentials of the park area and visitor centre. Several evaluation trips and site visits of experts (e.g. bird watching) and network partners (e.g. trekking and mountain biking) were also conducted. The project developed a number of plans and studies that provide vision foe ecotourism in the area including an Ecotourism Development Plan for the Park, a Renovation and Operation Plan for the Visitor Center, a Sustainable Business and Management Model for the Visitor Center. In addition a website was developed to promote ecotourism. Visitor information materials were developed to increase awareness and education including a high quality Park Documentary, Park Map, Park Pocket Guide, and Archaeology Book.

A corporate design and brand (logo and slogan) was created for the park. Implementation of marketing and promotion measures to market the ecotourism services of the park e.g. participation on the international tourism fairs and events and publishing articles more than 20 in tourism magazines (e.g. National Geographic) and eventually making a two year agreement with an international Public Relations company to promote the Park for the international tourists.

In doing so, The Ecotourism in Wadi el Gemal PPP has the potential to become a sustainable management model for ecotourism in the Park and other protected areas in Egypt.

Article by

  • Mahmoud Sarhan
  • Program Officer
  • Ecotourism in Wadi el Gemal National Park Project
  • Public Private Partnership Initiative for Ecotourism Development
  • DEG-KFW Development Bank - Gorgonia Beach Resort
  • Wadi el Gemal National Park, Red Sea, Egypt