Cairo landmark to get a makeover

A multi-million-dollar renovation "masterplan" has been outlined for one of Cairo's leading hotels, the El Gezirah Sheraton, as Egypt prepares for an upturn in visitors to the country - for business and pleasure.

"The renovation project further illustrates our confidence in all aspects of the Egyptian market - the conference sector, incentive travel and tourism in general," says Keith Hardie, the five-star property's general manager.

So far 117 rooms at the 436-room El Gezirah Sheraton have been renovated at a cost of $10 million. Similar work on the remaining rooms starts in six months and will be completed in less than two years. Room renovations will cost a further $10 million.

El Gezirah executives have revealed a blueprint for a full-scale makeover of the rest of the hotel. Work will include enlarging the lobby, adding a shopping arcade, nightclub and a host of other facilities.

In a city of landmarks, the El Gezirah Sheraton - owned by the El Gezirah Company for Hotels and Tourism - is a landmark in itself.

The imposing skyscraper is located on the southern tip of the exclusive Gezirah Island, nearly surrounded by the Nile waters.

"Our masterplan will make even more use of the magical location, to provide even more views of the Nile wherever possible," says Ayman Emira, director of engineering at El Gezirah Sheraton.

Egypt's tourism industry was hit hard by the September 11 events, suffering a 15 per cent slide in business. But a major international campaign launched by the government and private sector to reassure visitors seems to be working well, according to officials.

"Egypt will recuperate quickly," said Hardie.

"And our industry has a responsibility to rally behind the Government. In addition, competition is intense in Egypt and clients expect very high standards. The top properties must continue to upgrade."

Meanwhile, the Sheraton Montazah Hotel in Alexandria is also to get a facelift.

Cost of the renovation to the property on the city's Corniche will be $15 million, according to general manager Adel Hafez.

He said that Sheraton Montazah has had healthy occupancy levels at a time when most hotels in the Middle East were experiencing a business downturn.

Hafez, an industry veteran who has been with the Sheraton Montazah since 1988, tips even more tourists to Alexandria from throughout Egypt, an increase in visitors from the Gulf and a boost from the local and regional corporate, conference sectors.

The 296-room Sheraton Montazah, the flagship hotel in this port city and owned by the Arab Investments for Urbanisation Co, has had 75 rooms renovated and work starts on another 100 shortly.

Hafez said the hotel, which comes under the umbrella of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc runs at a minimum annual average of 68 per cent. Last August it was over 90 per cent.