“Ashry Narty” is a Nubian expression meaning “Island of Beauty”, according to Ahmed Sakr, chairperson of the Ashry Narty Nubian Lodge. He told Daily News Egypt in an interview that the hotel is the manifestation of a long life dream of having a house that overlooks the Nile in Aswan.
Sakr added that the cost of the first phase of the hotel amounted to EGP 3.5m, expecting further developments in the coming period.
How did you get the idea for the hotel? How did you proceed?
I always had a dream of owning a home on the banks of the Nile in Aswan, since the first time I visited the area on a trip with the university.
And again in 2015, I was visiting West Suhail village on the western shore of the Nile when I was 35 years old.
The dream was there. I visited Aswan several times—for work and pleasure—and in 2015, I decided to fulfill my life dream.
I always believed that the Nubian village of West Suhail is an exceptional place in Egypt that, if used correctly, can become a world renowned village, like the Chefchaouen village in Morocco.
At that time, I was preparing to travel to Japan for three years to work on a master’s degree in economics and good governance.
It was a hard decision to invest in building a home for myself, but I thought, why build a home that I use for a few days every year when I could build a home for thousands of people from around the world.
This means that you want to develop the local community along with the investment?
Exactly what I wanted. The decision was to build a hotel that takes advantage of the wonderful environmental resources in the region while preserving the heritage and culture. We will also use the revenue from the hotel to build a hospital in the village, develop education, and teach crafts to residents. This is a practical application of creating shared value with local communities.
This is a global trend in entrepreneurship: to set up profit-oriented projects but spend part of the profits on sustainable development for their communities.
Rather, the method of making profits itself stems from the original objectives and elements of the local community embracing the project.
So this how the idea formed. How about implementation?
I talked with a Nubian friend who owned a plot of land in a unique location on the Nile in the village of West Suhail. He shared the same dream of building a Nubian lodge.
We met and seriously began discussing and searching for a design that fits the terrain of the flat land at the foot of a mountain facing the Nile.
When I returned to Cairo, I talked to more friends. Some of them did not take the idea seriously, but one friend recommended I talk to his colleague, architect Mai Badr, as her graduation project in 2014 was a Nubian Lodge that helps develop its community.
It was perfect. We met, talked, and agreed to start putting together a perspective for the project. Now, two years later, the first phase of the Ashry Narty Nubian Lodge is a proof that a dream can come true.
Three more people joined us along the way, especially after the flotation of the pound, which hiked the prices of materials and forced us to look for sources of finance.
How much was the investment cost of the project? And what is its capacity?
The capacity of the hotel’s first phase is 12 rooms. This cost EGP 3.5m.
The first phase includes a restaurant, kitchen, reception, rooftop, and a multi-purpose meeting and training room.
We aim to inject EGP 3.5m more in the second phase to boost capacity to 28 rooms, 4 penthouses, and a Nubian spa—a first of its kind in Egypt. We are also looking into building an onsen—a Japanese hot spring—to attract Japanese tourists.
This aspect will bring added value to tourism in Aswan. It could draw attention to the crippled and wasted capacities and resources of the sulfuric springs spread throughout Egypt.
Was there bank financing for the project, or do you hope to obtain one?
The hotel was fully self-financed by five shareholders. It is hard to obtain funding for such unusual projects in Egypt.
But we hope that now, since the project has become a reality, we can obtain the necessary funding for the establishment of a solar power plant in the second phase of the project.
But up until now, we did not knock on the doors of banks. All funding was secured by the shareholders’ savings.
We hope to see financing products for entrepreneurial projects at some point, with realistic interest rates and easy facilitated procedures.
Why did you choose Aswan, and what is your new product that you are offering?
Aswan is one of the very remarkable cities in all of Africa, with unique cultural diversity, environmental resources, and climate that can work to generate renewable energy and be used for medical tourism, and it remains untapped.
I believe that medical tourism is still untapped here, waiting for someone to come and build its foundations in Egypt. This is a joint effort that we all have to partake in.
I was blessed with having many Nubian friends who could help make the dream come true, especially my friend and partner Atef Dahab and his family.
We aim to redraw the mental image of the tourism services in Aswan, as well as the cultural tourism for which the city is famous.
We will work to provide programmes that combine cultural, medical, and Nile tourism together for Egyptians and foreigners.
Moreover, we aim to establish an environmental tourism foundation through an ambitious and long-term project to transform the village of West Suhail into an ecological tourism village with integrated agricultural and energy production. We also hope to protect the environment through recycling and creating economic activity that can be used for sustainable development.
How were your occupancy rates during the first three months of 2017?
The soft opening was in February. Occupancy rates were very good and beyond our expectations, reaching 100% on weekends and 65% during weekdays.
The challenge is not in the winter months in Aswan, but in providing products that attract tourists and local visitors in the period from April to October.
In the summer, we will provide water sports programmes, especially as the Nile water level rises. This will also be the best time for medical burial sessions in Aswan’s hot dry sand to treat bone, back, and rheumatism problems between May and October.
We are working to provide parallel entertainment tourism, especially with regard to sandy beaches on the Nile, which may be a substitute for the hustle and bustle of other areas such as the north coast, where prices have reached very high levels.
The cost per night on the north coast could be enough for a four-night full programme in Aswan that includes swimming, relaxation, treatment, and enjoying the hospitality of Nubian people, as well as food.
What are your plans for marketing in the coming summer?
During the summer months, we will promote therapeutic tourism, as it is only available in the hot months.
I think that the provision of tourism products with good value and quality service will ensure that travel to Aswan takes place throughout the year.
What do you think of marketing tourism in southern Egypt, especially in Aswan?
We hope that we can create a new state of tourism in Aswan within two years of the official opening of the project in October, through partnership and cooperation with the local community, individuals, and official bodies.
It is time to break the classic link between Aswan and Luxor, and instead be linked to Marsa Alam, Shalatin, and Qusair, especially after completing the road networks linking all these cities together, which would offer a wide range of activities in that area.
Furthermore, I believe in investing in people—training them to adjust the quality of services across a broader time range, study mistakes and faults, and address them effectively using modern means of communication and direct booking.
We need to know how to market effectively, next to seasonal contracts with companies and tour operators. The tourism market is rapidly changing.
We hope that the government will help the tourism sector and entrepreneurs by providing incentives for charter flights in Upper Egypt, especially in Aswan.
We are waiting to see the return of the direct charter flights to Aswan and the cooperation between the governorate of Aswan and the Ministry of Civil Aviation in order to provide an incentive package with discounts on fees for charter companies. This could prompt these companies to merge the tours to Aswan with the ones to the Red Sea area.
Egyptians are always complaining about the price of accommodation in hotels compared to foreigners. What is the price of accommodation at your hotel?
We have a standard price for all the guests. To promote domestic tourism, our exchange rate is EGP 10 to the dollar, regardless of its bank price.
The price is $50 for single rooms, $60 four double rooms, and $75 for triple rooms—including breakfast.
There is always a lack of marketing and providing strong offers to students and employees at Egyptian universities or companies from Egyptian hotels. How do you see that?
We are already targeting Egyptian universities and companies. Therefore, we have created a multi-purpose hall in the design of the first phase, so that it can be used for training trips by companies and universities.
We also aim to create a sustainable cooperation with students of Egyptian universities. In May, we are set to launch this cooperation by hosting students of the Faculty of Fine Arts to come and decorate the walls of the Ashry Narty Nubian Lodge. This will also be part of the Ashry Narty Arts Festival between 1 and 7 May 2017.
Is the Ashry Narty Nubian Lodge the limit of your dreams?
We hope to replicate the model soon in Sinai, Shalatin, Fayoum, and Marsa Matrouh. We hope that our project motivates more people to use our model, amend and improve it, and implement similar projects across Egypt.