It was great news when the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has recently announced that for the first time two villages in Egypt were listed among the Best Tourism Villages for 2023.
The announcement came during the 25th UNWTO General Assembly meeting in Uzbekistan.
Dahshur in Giza Governorate and Siwa in Matrouh Governorate chosen from a list of 162 settlements in 60 countries.
Saint Catherine joined the Upgrade Programme for supplementary guidance in order to be placed on the final list. Fuwwah in the Nile Delta was listed in 2021.
Vice-Minister for Tourism and Antiquities Ghada Shalaby said the ministry worked hard three years ago to achieve this result.
“Three years ago, we at the ministry talked about sustainability and its component in tourism depending on green transformation, the local community which is one of the most important in sustainable development for tourism,” she told The Egyptian Gazette.
“After Covid, people prefer to spend their time in fresh air amid nature and wide-open spaces.
“We are deeply interested in local communities, because not everyone wants to go to high-end resorts,” she added.
Shalaby said that the ministry began to focus on the role of villages that have touristic and archaeological components that can be highlighted so that they become an incubating community for tourism. They are then referred to the UNWTO, whose initiative ‘Best Tourism Villages’ was launched in 2021.
“We have the same aim is to support sustainability and integrate communities’ especially those far away from urban areas.
“We worked hard on these villages in co-operation with the environment ministry, UN agencies and governorates on how to show this important file.”
Meanwhile, Siwa already has a thriving tourist trade, but after being recognised by the international community that it is among the best villages in the world, people will see Siwa from another perspective, she said.
“We are preparing it to become a hub for wellness tourism, in a more strategic and systematic way that enables it to have a target market and target customers. We are also eying for making it to attract investments it really deserves,” she added.
Dahshur is a remarkable area of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has the oldest true pyramid and the only surviving flood-fed lake, as well as an enchanting pastoral landscape of farming villages nestled in the middle of dense palm groves.
The ministry helped training local craftsmen in creative handicraft industries of palm products, which contributed to providing job opportunities for youth and women in the village.
St. Catherine joined the Upgrade Programme in view of the development the area is witnessing within the framework of the national project known as the Great Transfiguration.
Shalaby added that when the Great Transfiguration development project in Saint Catherine is completed, the city will have all elements of the best rural village in the world.
“It is an important destination for spiritual tourism. It is the holiest place on Earth as being the place where God speaks to Moses,” she said.
She added that the ministry is working to present files for more villages in the coming years.
The UNWTO has set nine criteria for selecting these villages, which are: availability of cultural and natural resources, the ability of the tourism sector to preserve and enhance those resources, providing economic sustainability and integration, governance of tourism activities in villages to achieve the state’s value chains, infrastructure, tourism and communication services, tourism safety, and health and safety standards.
Adel el-Gendy, Head of Strategic Management Department of the ministry of tourism and antiquities, highlighted the importance of joining the UNWTO Best Tourism Villages Network.
“The importance of this network is that it is on the UNWTO which means it is a reference for all members who seek cultural tourism. Egypt’s name is promoted on the UNWTO site as it is already promoted in the UNESCO’s World Heritage site,” he told The Gazette.
“The tour operators specialised in cultural tourism, the first thing they do to make their business agenda is to see this network, so they will find Egypt.”
El-Gendy said that what has been done by the Haya Karima initiative helped them a lot in presenting this file to UNWTO in this time.
Launched in 2019, Haya Karima (Decent Life) is one of the most important and prominent presidential initiatives to consolidate all the efforts of the state, civil society, and the private sector to alleviate the burden of citizens in communities most in need in the countryside and slums in urban areas.
“When the Haya Karima enters the villages, it rehabilitates rural urbanism, by lining the canals and making roads safe and secure,” he said.
In addition, it is also important that community security there must be a familiarisation between the community and their acceptance of the tourism movement.
“The community is mobilised enough and trained well to deal with the tourist, as he will interact with them,” he said.
El-Gendy believes that the rural tourism product is more important than any other products.
“It guarantees the foreign currency for the local people in the place of production,” he said.
He added that winning these villages is considered a seal that they are the best tourist villages in the world.
“The local makers can put this seal on their products.”
Dahshur is famous for products from palm industries, he said. They were trained by the ministry and five UN agencies; WTO, ILO, UNDP, UNIDO and UNESCO.
“Dahshur has the highest palm density in the world with 2 million palm trees,” he said.
“It is regarded as the typical Egyptian countryside. They also have moulids for their local walis and they still practising the rituals,” El-Gendy added.
Siwa has desert tourism for safari, which re-opened after a nine-year hiatus, el-Gendy said.
Siwa also has architectural tourism for its ecolodge.
“The culture of oasis and its products, jewellery, and textiles add more weight to Siwa to be selected among the best villages,” he said.
“There is also gastronomy,” he added. “All these things are considered the core of locality,” he added.