As the dust settles on the Sinai Desert city of Sharm el-Sheikh, which hosted this year’s United Nations climate talks, reflections by reporters and environment experts will linger for a long time to come.
Some 33,000 scientists, activists and ‘Big Agriculture’ and government representatives descended on this town of 73,000, breathing life and verve into the otherwise laidback tourist haven, to find ways of accelerating global efforts to confront the climate crisis.
I was privileged to attend the conference, thanks to the Media Council of Kenya’s role in training on climate change and, while at it, gleaned a few lessons for our tourism sector.
Hosting the climate meet at one of Egypt’s iconic tourist spots was cleverly designed to publicise a resort famous for sheltered sandy beaches, clear waters and coral reefs. It is inconceivable that any other promotion would have achieved publicity of that scale.
But Egypt did not identify the rendezvous, an hour’s flight from the capital Cairo, and sit back. It deployed massive infrastructural development that went on up to the event, giving the city on the Red Sea a major face-lift. It spent heavily, to the tune of $619 million (about Sh75 billion), on building expansive, well-lit thoroughfares, lending movement around the city a first-world feel.
Wide roads of up to five lanes on either side crisscross Sharm el-Sheikh, enabling visitors to estimate the time it would take to move from one point to another to the minute.
European-style hotels and residences were spruced up and new ones were put up (My taxi driver told me they were built under close government supervision). Close to the conference district is the older part of the town, Old Market, which, with nearby Naama Bay, forms a pulsating part of the city that hardly sleeps. Police patrolling on jeeps and other fancy vehicles also gave one the confidence to enjoy the pleasures of walking Sharm el-Sheikh.
Major attraction sites
Despite the conference happening in a small outpost, delegates still sampled some of the major attraction sites—including the Great Pyramids of Giza, in Cairo; the city of Luxor, in Upper Egypt, famous for monuments of the New Kingdom pharaohs; and cruises on the Nile, in Aswan in the South.
With excellent connectivity, taking events away from the capitals helps to develop far-flung regions while retaining spillovers on the other destinations. If Kenya hosted global events in places like Lamu and Lodwar, the preceding infrastructure developments would significantly transform those places.
Undoubtedly, Kenya has a head start in hosting such events: Beautiful beaches, excellent climate, game parks, good internet connectivity and a maturing democracy put us head and shoulders above our neighbours.
However, these destinations should be secured and protected. Our game parks must be cushioned against the pressure of human activity, including unplanned hotels and shopping centres around global attractions such as the Maasai Mara game reserve. We need to rethink the fencing and land fractioning that adds to this distress.
We also need a working airline, excellent road and rail transport and uncompromising security around the tourism ecosystem.
Remarkably, the Nairobi Expressway has eased access to and from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, boosting the capital city’s stature as a conference destination. However, we need more.
While Mombasa is well-linked by air and rail, there is a need to expand the two-lane road from Nairobi and those heading out of the Indian Ocean resort to the other tourist towns on the North- and South Coast. To attract money from the world, we must spend our own on excellent infrastructure and have enabling policies and strict management that secure and preserve our jewels in the wild.
If Sharm el-Sheikh, the ‘Bay of the Wise’ in a desert, can bring Egypt so much honour—and cash—we, too, can dream big and build our resorts to a level where they can host regional and global events.
Mr Sigei is a senior officer, Training Standards and Curriculum Development, at the Media Council of Kenya. [email protected]