The region's major asset is its diverse tourist potential due to its unique location - at the border of desert and sea, and at the crossroads of four countries; interesting topography - mountains and deserts; proximity to the world-renowned coral reefs; and favorable climate - suitable for year-round outdoor activities and bathing. Joint tourism promotion through regional cooperation will benefit Jordan, Egypt, Israel and potentially, Saudi Arabia. Of importance to tourists are a trans-Arava traffic route and the Ring Road which links the four countries bordering on the region.
The Red Sea is a primary tourist destination for attracting foreign leisure tourism. Its potential has yet to be fulfilled. The Red Sea coastline along the Sinai Peninsula incorporates a rare combination of natural attributes: clean, sandy beaches; a warm, arid climate; placid, temperate waters; dramatic desertscapes and seclusion. The lush coral reefs along the coast remain fairly unspoiled and the area is recognized as one of the prime diving locations in the world. In addition, given the proximity of many of these reefs to the shore, non-divers can encounter the Red Sea's splendors without having to be expert swimmers or set aside unusual amounts of time for marine activities.
Eilat is currently a tourist focal point in the Aqaba Gulf and North Sinai region. As of 1995 there were approximately 6,660 hotel rooms in Eilat.
Aqaba. In 1995 hotel rooms in Aqaba number about 1,100 with an additional 200 rooms under construction.
Sinai. Here accommodation development is concentrated primarily in Sharem-el-Sheikh, which shares a development potential similar to that of Eilat. There are plans for developing the northern region of the Gulf coast, from Taba to Ras Bourka, at three sites: the Taba Center, Moqbela/Al Homayra Center, and the Riviera Center.
Tourism development will necessitate investment in water desalination, developing energy sources, sewage treatment, transportation and border crossing facilities. Protection of the Red Sea ecosystem is a major concern in tourism development.
4.1. Tourism Development in Eilat-Aqaba
Tourism is one of the key industries in the northern Gulf region. Its importance for local economies and employment cannot be understated. Tourism development plans concentrate not only in expanding accommodations, but in enhancing and diversifying the kinds of tourist projects offered in the area. Environmental considerations are paramount and problems associated with possible over development are being addressed within the framework of local and bi-lateral planning frameworks.
The possibility for capitalizing on synergies and economies of scale within the tourism sector are considerable. Israel and Jordan have agreed to establish non-resident consulates in each city to facilitate bi-lateral cooperation in this area. The Aqaba-Eilat Peace airport is designed to give further expression to this endeavor. The possibility of inaugurating special cross border day tripping arrangements are also being discussed.
In Eilat tourism infrastructure is highly developed. Israels Master Plan for Tourism Development projects that as many as 9,600 rooms will be added in by the year 2010, as well as other tourist attractions both within and outside city limits.
Development strategy for the future stresses the need for controlled growth to avoid a situation of over-capacity, that may reduce the citys attractiveness as a tourist destination. Tourism development, therefore will be layered: geographically and thematically diversified between water based and desert based attractions. Hotel development in the south will be limited, in order to protect the coral reefs. Part of the port and the current municipal airport will be converted for tourism enterprises. Commercial and entertainment services will be upgraded and convention tourism in the city promoted.
Future development plans for the Eilat-Eilot region include allocating additional land ftourism development. Projects outlined in the blueprint for development include the creation a new residential and tourism suburb in the area of the salt evaporation ponds directly north of the city and expansion of the beach front promenade area southwards (including conversion of some port property for tourism projects).
Current plans include: a water park directly north of the city, development of the bird watching center, diversification of land-based sports and recreational facilities, establishment of hotel and motel accommodations near the Timna Park and in the Yahoram Mountain area near the future Ein Netafim border crossing,
Plans for Aqaba concentrate the development of hotels and vacation villages south of the city and port area. The Jordanian Aqaba Regional Authority has prepared a master plan for tourism development in the Aqaba region. According to this plan, an additional 2,000 hotel rooms are planned for Aqaba Town; 11 hotels and two tourist villages for Ras Al Yamaniya; a hotel, holiday home complex, golf resort and amusement park are planned for Qabous Village. The ARA has signed contracts with developers for four hotel projects and is in the process of selecting developers for additional projects.
Development of infrastructure for Ras Al Yamaniya includes relocating the coastal highway, preparation of water and wastewater systems, setting up an electricity substation, street lighting and a new cellular communications center. Estimated costs of these infrastructure elements comes to $14 million.
The European Union has pledged support for planning a contingency study of the Gulf of Aqaba area and coordinated tourism planning and marketing is one of the projects being implemented within the framework of TEAM Area. It is estimated that this program will increase overnight stays by approximately 10% as well as the number of day-trippers to Aqaba using restaurants and commercial services in the city. Components of the project include: development of Hejaz Railway for trips from Aqaba-Wadi Rum (Lawrence of Arabia Line), development of water transport link between Aqaba and Eilat, upgrading the Aqaba visitors center and preparation of materials focusing on the history of Aqaba. Funding required for these four components comes to $7.7 million.