The Red Sea is experiencing hotel and resort growth and big increases in capacity, encouraging families and couples to book some time in the sun.
But the destination’s key appeal is still scuba – its world-class diving attracts fanatics eager to go in search of coral, fish and wrecks.
So is the Red Sea for divers only? Here are three arguments for and against.
The resorts on the Red Sea exist because they are such great dive destinations, suitable for everyone from the scuba novice to the expert.
Hurghada is slightly different – it was a quiet fishing village before the diving fraternity found it – but Marsa Alam, Dahab and Nuweiba owe their existence to scuba.
Specialist operator Regal Dive built its reputation in the Red Sea and the region still accounts for a huge chunk of its business, with Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada the favourites.
Product manager Kate Phillips said: “The region offers variety, whether clients are beginners or looking to notch up dives. It’s just five-and-a-half hours from the UK and served by charter flights, which helps keep the cost down.”
Phillips said Regal’s divers want to be under the water every day, and are not looking for much else.
She said: “They want to make an early start, pack in as many dives as they can, have a drink and meal in the evening and get to bed.
“Location is more important than quality. Three or four-star accommodation is fine and they want to be near restaurants so they don’t have to stray too far from the diving.”
Sample product for divers: Regal Dive has seven nights at the Hilton Resort in Hurghada in April 2008 from £549 per person bed and breakfast including flights and transfers. Five days’ diving, including two boat dives, tanks, weights and weight belt, costs £127 per person.
Longwood Holidays has seven nights at the Ambassador Hotel in Eilat from £514 per person bed and breakfast including flights and transfers if booked by September 3. A beginners’ PADI Open Water course at the Red Sea Sports Club costs £139 per person including equipment.
Activities and shopping for everyone
Neither Eilat nor Sharm el-Sheikh have much in the way of history or culture, but that doesn’t mean non-divers will be bored.
Jeep safaris and camel rides into the desert, water skiing, paragliding and glass-bottom boat trips are all available in Eilat. In addition, visitors can swim with dolphins at Dolphin Reef.
Sharm has facilities for water sports as well as restaurants and shopping in Na’ama Bay. Clients can visit St Catherine’s Monastery – built at the foot of the mountain where Moses is said to have received the 10 Commandments – and climb the mount.
Longwood Holidays managing director Rafi Caplin said: “A lot of people go on holiday just to lie in the sun, and the Red Sea is good for that, but there is also plenty to keep holidaymakers busy.
“In Eilat, there’s the underwater observatory, the new King’s City amusement park, restaurants and designer shopping at good prices because there is no tax.”
Peltours sales and marketing director Darren Panto said as many as 90% of the operator’s visitors to the Red Sea are not divers.
“Sharm el-Sheikh and Eilat might have started as dive destinations, but now they are top-class resorts with good hotels. There’s even a Burger King in Sharm and Eilat has everything a tourist could want.
“Golf is taking off in Taba Heights – we have been appointed the official tour operator for the Matchplay Championship, the final of which is being held in Taba Heights in April 2008.”
Sample product for non-divers: Peltours has seven nights at the Dan Panorama in Eilat from £699 per person half-board in December including flights and transfers.
Culture and excursions for non-divers
The Dead Sea, which is 13,000ft below sea level, is just a two-hour drive from Eilat and a great day out.
Visitors can float in the mineral-rich waters, but there’s so much history close by that clients might like to stay a day or two.
A 10-minute drive from the lake is Masada, the mountain-top fortress built by Herod the Great where, in AD73, 1,000 Jewish zealots committed suicide to avoid capture by the Romans.
At the top – reached by cable car – are the remains of Herod’s water cisterns, grain stores and sauna.
The Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, are also nearby. The Scrolls are on display at the Shrine of the Book, in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Clients could also try Aqaba, Jordan’s expanding Red Sea resort. There are smart new hotels, unspoilt diving and desert jeep safaris at Wadi Rum, an hour’s drive away.
Two hours’ drive away is Petra – the city built by the Nabateans in the 3rd century BC but abandoned in AD555, and rediscovered in 1812 by Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burckhardt.
Sample product for cultural tourists:Cadogan Holidays has seven nights at the five-star Dan Eilat from £1,215 per person bed and breakfast including flights from Heathrow to Tel Aviv, internal flights to Eilat and private transfers in October.
Longwood Holidays has seven nights at the InterContinental in Aqaba in March 2008 from £659 per person bed and breakfast, including flights and transfers.
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