How Eco-Tourism benefits the Local Economy

Did you know this:

“For every $100 spent on a tour to a developing country, only $5 stays in the local economy.”

Source:, 20-10-2020

I was shocked. I knew that mass market tours largely benefit inbound tour operators and chain hotels, but I had no idea how very little made its way to local people.

And this is one of the key things that is very different in Dahab (well, most of Dahab, anyway).

Here in Dahab, you will find mainly owner-operated small businesses, with high local content.

We actually measured our local content for 3 years, and when I came across this statistic I got out the spreadsheet  and measured our current trips as well. So here it is:

Camel Diving Safaris

In 2007, Desert Divers was known as the Home of the Camel Diving Safari. 58% of salaries/supplier payments for Camel Diving Safaris were paid to Bedouin. After 3 years, that increased  to 80% as we trained more Bedouin guides as PADI Dive Masters. Today, 2 of these Dive Masters have their own businesses in Dahab.

Camel Diving Safaris also introduced Ras Abu Galum to many divers and snorkellers. In 2007, there were 5 or 6 families with a few huts each hosting divers. Today it is a popular destination, with more than 100 Bedouin making their livelihood from Ras Abu Galum.

I should say that this development isn’t perfect. Although Desert Divers still goes to Ras Abu Galum by camel, with small groups of divers on overnight trips, there are safari offices in Dahab doing mass-market-style daytrips as well. Small boats were brought in to make the trip an easier cheaper daytrip, which means that for 2-3 hrs a day on weekends and local holidays it can be a busy place. So we have to think about how we protect destinations like Ras Abu Galum from ‘too much love’, without taking away how important it has become to the income of local people.

While we’re on the subject, we’d like to say that guides should be mandatory for trips to Ras Abu Galum, all guides should be trained about environmental issues, plus there should be a cap on number of trips/people per day and better waste management. Measures like these would actually increase the number of local Bedouin employed as guides, and increase local content.

Rock Climbing

It’s hard to believe today, but in 2002 rock climbing was in its infancy in Dahab and the Sinai. A small number of trad climbers knew about St Catherine, and an even smaller number knew about the bouldering and sport climbing potential in Dahab’s Wadi Qnai (Gnai).

  • In 2007 when we started this measurement project, we did 36 climbing trips for 76 people, and 41% was local content.
  • In 2009, we did more than 90 trips, but the local content was just 35%. Why? Because we had brought in an internationally certified instructor to help train Bedouin rock climbing guides, and keep us on track as we grew this amazing sport for the desert.
  • By the start of the 2010-11 climbing season, local Bedouin content was 69% 🙂
  • Up until this time, our climbers were mainly European. This all changed in 2012 when small group adventure companies in Cairo discovered rock climbing. First D31, then Navig8 and the Nomads/Fingerlock founders brought together small groups of friends and started posting about rock climbing in Dahab. Over time, 4 of our guides and 2 of our students started their own climbing businesses, and rock climbing became a must do activity in Dahab. To be honest, it was a bit of a tussle as we cooperated but also competed with one another, sometimes disagreeing about standards, but overall the importance of rock climbing to the local economy grew.
  • In November 2019 and January 2020, Sinai Rock Climbing Centre hosted Egypt’s first Rock Climbing Instructor courses. There was a lot of discussion about standards, and about how important local Bedouin content is to the development of rock climbing in the Sinai.
  • At the time of writing, we’ve just started the 2020-21 climbing season, and so far our local content is 82%!

Other Courses and Trips

  • Trekking: 100% local.
  • Freediving: less than 15% local, but we see more and more young fit Egyptians getting into freediving, so this will increase as more become instructors.
  • PADI Courses and daily guided dives: 62% local. Courses less due to language needs and the cost of buying PADI manuals and certifications, guided dives much higher. I should also say that there there aren’t enough local female instructors, although this is starting to change now. Half our staff, and just over half of our students, are women 🙂
  • Accommodation and transfers: 100% local.

Should all content be Local?

I’m tempted to say, yes, but Said (our local Bedouin founder) isn’t so sure. His point is that he learned a huge amount from ‘foreigners’, especially about environmental issues, and that a place like Dahab benefits from a mix of people with different ideas, experiences and contacts.

Perhaps it’s more useful to think about the value of your non-local content. In our case, it’s educational materials from standards agencies like PADI and AIDA, plus 3-4 instructors who are living in Dahab and helping to train the next generation of divers, climbers and freedivers. The instructors have unique skill sets (languages, underwater photography, marketing, special expertise in their fields), they love sharing their skills with local people, and they’re as proud of our local content – and as committed to increasing it – as we are!


That’s it for our little spreadsheet exercise. I’m glad we read that statistic today. Whereas most tours to developing countries contribute just 5% to the local economy, we’re contributing more than 70%! And that’s another reason to be very proudly local!

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