Environment Ministry exempts Red Sea resort guests from fees amid controversy

Egypt’s Environment Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday exempting guests at resorts located along the Red Sea from paying entry fees to nature reserves in the area, after a previous decision in November stirred outrage among boat owners and scuba diving centers in Egypt’s prime diving spot.

The Red Sea Protected Area announced earlier in November it would begin collecting entry fees from visitors to nature reserves as part of the implementation of decision 204, which was issued in November by Environment Minister Yasmin Fouad.

Employees working in the diving, marine activities and hotel industries along the Red Sea had received an explanatory leaflet for resolution 204 regarding the collection of entry fees for natural reserves along the Red Sea, with Wadi al-Gemal in Marsa Alam, Jabal Elba, and the Hamata Islands, also known as the remote islands of the Red Sea, included in the decision.

However, the Chamber of Diving and Watersports (CDWS) rejected the resolution, saying they would take the issue to court. Numerous other owners of tourist boats and diving centers in Hurghada also slammed the Ministry’s decision and threatened to stop organizing diving trips.

The new Ministry statement issued this week clarifies that decision 204 does not apply to guests at resorts, so long as the beach at the resort is facing an area protected by law. The fee also does not apply to local residents and employees of the protected areas.

Separate morning and evening tickets for visitors will be available, the statement explained, noting as well that it is not permitted to use one ticket for both the morning and evening periods.

Meanwhile, legal disputes have arisen between the government and the CDWS board of directors over the ministry imposing fees on areas outside the boundaries of the nature reserves, with the CDWS arguing that increasing costs for tourists coming to Egypt will send them to competing tourist destinations, which will harm the country’s tourism sector as it struggles to recover from a multi-year slump.

Jabal Elba and the Hamata Islands do not fall under the authorization of the Environment Ministry, the CDWS added, which means the government has no right to impose entry fees on the two areas.

The CDWS, in partnership with a number of companies owning diving centers, yachts, and hotels filed a lawsuit in response to the decision, demanding that it be cancelled.

The decision set the fees for daily visits from eight am until sunset, with visitors after sunset needing to pay double.

Fees were set at five dollars for foreigners and at LE25 for Egyptians, with children less than seven years old exempted from paying for admission.

Meanwhile, guests would also need to pay fees for their cars, with fees for large cars set at US$10 for foreigners and LE50 for Egyptians, while smaller car fees were set at LE25.

According to the new decision, US$10 will be charged for diving and snorkeling yachts from 17 to 20 meters long, US$20 on yachts from 20 to 25 meters long, US$40 on yachts from 25 to 30 meters long, and US$60 on yachts over 30 meters long.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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