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Sawiris unveils “real-life” village

Samih Sawiris (centre) is confident his vision for Andermatt will be approved Keystone

Samih Sawiris's ambitious plans for the Swiss mountain resort of Andermatt have come one step closer.

The Egyptian billionaire this week presented the architectural designs for his “CO2 neutral” village, which will include a luxury hotel, sports complex and 18-hole golf course.

“I’m really happy because today is the last day of all the regulations. We’ve handed in everything necessary to receive a final permit,” he told swissinfo on Monday.

“Ultimately I came to Andermatt to build, not just to plan.”

There is now a 30-day period of appeal, and although the cantonal government has yet to give its approval, the first diggers are expected to turn up in the 1,300-inhabitant village in the coming weeks.

“As long as there are no major objections, I expect the authorities to give a legally binding approval by November 2008,” Sawiris said. The resort aims to be open for business by 2014.

Coordinating the project has so far taken more than ten years and when asked whether things got done quicker in Egypt than in Switzerland, Sawiris answered that things got done quicker anywhere in the world than Switzerland – but he added that working with the Swiss authorities is “super”.

“It’s like wearing a Swiss watch!” he said. “It’s unbelievable how precise everything is and how meticulous the dates and planning procedures are.

“To be honest, I was not very happy with it in the beginning because it was just too slow for my liking, but once you get used to this rhythm, it grows on you.”

Green giant

The Andermatt project is the billionaire’s attempt to gain a foothold in Europe and it has won favour with locals who believe it will give a large boost to the economically depressed region.

The resort will comprise 600 hotel rooms, 220 hotel apartments, a maximum of 40 holiday houses and 710 apartments.

In response to concerns from environmental groups, the target is for a carbon dioxide neutral provision of energy.

“Insulation, the fact that electricity should come from renewable energy sources wherever possible and that the traffic will remain under the [central construction] – that all gives us the possibility to create something different,” Sawiris said.

The central resort will be traffic-free and the 1,970 parking places and delivery zones will be located under the resort, with a view to encouraging as many visitors as possible to arrive by public transport.

In addition 70 per cent of the 18-hole golf course, which in winter will be used for cross country skiing, will be an “ecological compensation and balancing area”, promoting species unique to the area.

Less is more

Sawiris, who is investing at least $1 billion (SFr1.08 billion) in Andermatt, said he chose the resort “because it was an available piece of land that was big enough, but the village was small enough that it was easy to unite the old and the new in a fairly small destination”.

This, he said, was different from the oversized alpine destinations where everybody goes but everybody complains. “We thought, let’s make something small so that people don’t complain about the excess.”

Sawiris knows exactly who he wants his clientele to be. “Everyone! For me it will only be a success when I see people coming in Rolls-Royces and on bicycles,” he said.

“If that’s not the case, it will mean there’s a monoculture and I hate places where you only see people dressed like it’s Ibiza or where everyone’s at least 80. For me that’s not normal! Society is made up of different types of people of different ages and I want [the resort] to be a mixture – like real life.”

“New era”

In March 2007 residents voted overwhelmingly in favour of amending local zoning plans to allow what will be one of the most ambitious tourism projects in the Swiss Alps to go ahead.

The government was also quick to set a precedent by exempting the proposed resort from a law limiting the sale of property to foreigners.

A report by Switzerland’s Winterthur College of Applied Sciences estimated it would generate SFr120 million ($110 million) in added value and create 2,000 jobs, either directly or indirectly.

The resort will fill the vacuum left by the Swiss army’s retreat. Andermatt was home to elite mountain units and a shooting range. Where there were once 1,000 troops stationed in the village, there were at the last count only 60.

“It’s a real boost for us. The emigration of workers in recent years has been stemmed,” Karl Poletti, mayor of Andermatt, told swissinfo.

“There are more jobs – a construction volume is being created – and we’re very happy about that. The mood in Andermatt is very good. It’s a new era.”

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

There are 164 medium and large ski areas in Switzerland. But in total, the country has 650 mountain transport and ski lift companies. They provide access to 12,000km of ski slopes.
With 11,000 employees, the companies are a key economic factor in mountain regions.
They have a combined annual turnover of approximately SFr840 million ($770 million).

The Sawiris business empire, the Orascom Group, is divided into three sectors: telecommunications, construction and tourism.

Samih Sawiris heads the latter, operating three purpose-built resorts on the Red Sea coast, and is constructing several more in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Mauritius and Morocco.

The company’s strategy is “the acquisition of undeveloped land in prime locations, the development and marketing of fully self-sufficient communities…”

The flagship El Gouna resort is a cluster of hotels, restaurants and shopping centres built around artificial lagoons.

Orascom administers the resort with a resident population of 10,000, including its airport, schools and hospital.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR