Whilst on our recent trip to Sharm el Sheikh we got the chance to have lunch with Hesham Gabr, founder, owner and Managing Director at Camel Dive Club & Hotel. We chatted about the early days in Naama Bay, the success of Camel Dive Club, the current situation and his hopes for the future.
Hesham first came to Sharm el Sheikh in 1982, when he was just 22 years old. He had dropped out of his university course in Cairo after becoming disillusioned with life in the city, which was crowded, noisy & polluted. Instead, he dreamed of being one of the pioneers in developing the “unknown” Egypt – the Sinai Peninsula. He was lucky to have a friend with a geologist father, who travelled along the coast and had access to scuba diving equipment. Hesham’s first dive was done hanging onto his friends tank and buddy breathing from their only regulator – but he was hooked.
At first Hesham tried to buy a piece of land in Nuweiba, but this fell through. He returned to Sharm, donned a mask and snorkel to see what the reefs off Naama Bay had to offer, and decided to stay. At the time, there were only three, Israeli owned, dive centres in the region. He got a job filling tanks at one of them, working in exchange for learning to dive properly. In 1983, Hesham became a PADI diving instructor, and decided that he should also go back to university to finish his degree in Anthropology. He divided his time, using the midnight bus that ran from Sharm to Cairo, between his studies, and teaching his fellow students to dive.
In March 1986, Hesham Gabr successfully bought his plot of land in Naama Bay. His new diving centre was opened in December of that same year, but as the lawyers were finalising all the paperwork, they phoned Hesham to say that everything was in order apart from one thing – what was the name of this business going to be? Hesham had given no thought to this idea, and as he glanced out of the window, a lone camel wandered down the street past the new dive centre. That was it – “Call it Camel Dive Club,” and with that this historic scuba business was born.
In 1994 they started work on the hotel. The architects suggested knocking down the dive centre and building the new joint operation from scratch, but Hesham wanted to keep the centre and ordered them to build around the original site, so the stone walls you see today at the dive centre are still the originals. The hotel was finished in 1997. Now the Camel Dive Club and Hotel offers diving, hotel, food and, of course, the famous roof top bar where divers have always met to discuss their adventures over a cold beer.
The scuba diving business boomed in the 90s and continued to grow for another 20 years, seeing divers flocking here for the great diving, warm, all year round sunshine, clear blue waters and a vibrant social scene. However, with political changes and a terrible terrorist attack, numbers coming here have plummeted. If you look down the main streets, it is like a ghost town, but as we talked to Hesham about these troubled times, we were delighted to hear some optimism from him. Many divers are now returning, particularly with from mainland Europe as they are able to fly directly once again; they are returning to a destination they have always loved. Many have never stopped, with loyal Camel Dive Club customers finding a way to come visit throughout. But, flight capacities are limited and even when the UK finally does give Sharm airport the all clear, it will take some time for the travel companies to add flights onto their schedules. Hesham expects 2017 to be another tough year, but not quite as tough as the last two years. But, he has high hopes for 2018.
The positive news right now is that the dive sites are uncrowded, the reefs have been under less pressure and are, as a result, in spectacular health. In our next feature for Scubaverse we will talk about how you can get there right now, fully insured and with some great deals on offer.
For more from Nick and Caroline, visit www.frogfishphotography.com.