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Samih Sawiris's alpine resort

The Egyptian entrepreneur, Samih Sawiris, tells swissinfo why he has chosen to develop a luxury ski and golf resort in Andermatt.

Sawiris is head of the Hotels and Development division of his family's Orascom Group.

Sawiris has yet to draw up a plan for his first alpine resort, but says it will include an 18-hole golf course and swimming pool complex with a sandy beach. Its hotels and holiday apartments will have at least 800 rooms.

swissinfo: Why have you decided on the Alps for your first project outside the Middle East, and why Andermatt?

Samih Sawiris: The Alps came as a coincidence. Why the first time out of the Middle East? It's because I find this is really the place where competition is very hard. There are a lot of big players [in Europe] and you grow tired of playing in the second division. After you've been successful there, you want to play with the big boys and the big boys are here.

swissinfo: But the number of tourists coming to the Alps has been declining and the reason often cited is because they prefer travelling to southern destinations like your resort, El Gouna.

S.S.: A lot of people in the Alps underestimate that resorts must offer more than just skiing, and that's where our know-how lies. We know what to give people who want a holiday because we've been doing it now for 15 years and whether you're in the Alps or on the beach, you still want rest and relaxation and that is missing here big time.

swissinfo: Will the Andermatt resort be self-sufficient like your other destinations?

S.S.: It doesn't have to be self-sufficient because there is this beautiful village next door that can be part of this overall development. My idea is to add to what already exists - to complement it with whatever is missing, and there is quite a bit missing.

We have a lot of space where we can do something that has not been done before. When you start late, you better come in with something really different, and bigger and better, otherwise you're not going to get anywhere.

swissinfo: What measures will you take to ensure it meets Switzerland's strict environmental standards?

S.S.: For starters, we are going to talk to the environmental organisations, just like we do in Egypt. We [at El Gouna] have been awarded eight or nine of the most important [ecology] awards in Egypt because we work together.

I founded the first NGO in Egypt to take care of the reefs because I was afraid we would ruin the reefs with too much diving, or bad handling of anchorage.

I think the environmental groups are the first that should be talked to, to see what restrictions should be observed so we can tell our architects what to do and what not to do.

Generally speaking, I see no sense in developing anything that is not environmentally in compliance with what people want because it doesn't have a future. Nowadays nobody wants to go to a place that is in breach of environmental ethics.

swissinfo: If the project goes ahead, Orascom will become the biggest employer in Andermatt. How active will you become politically?

S.S.: My only political ambition is to have people want us to be here, and that will continue as we proceed with the project, and after the project is completed so that I feel I am still welcome. That's my goal.

swissinfo-interview: Dale Bechtel

Key facts

Andermatt has a population of 1,351, and lies at an altitude of 1,444 metres above sea level.
It has about 800 beds in around 20 hotels and guesthouses.
Samih Sawiris plans to double the figure with his resort.
Local officials do not expect building permits to be issued before mid-2007.

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In brief

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 a fourth and fifth in the United Arab Emirates and in Oman.

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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