Circle Divers - Defying the Odds to Start a New Business in Sharm
Just over a year ago, Egyptian Dive instructor Abdelsalam Awad decided to open a new dive centre in Sharm-el Sheikh. In just a short space of time, Circle Divers has already proven to be successful enough that Abdelsalam and his team were able to take their place alongside larger, more established centres, at this year's Boot show in Düsseldorf.
The idea of starting a new business in Sharm may come as a surprise, given the resort's recent history, but the resurgence of the reefs and a love for the place caused Abdelsalam to think differently. 'Diving was still beautiful,' he said, 'even more beautiful, as we did not hear boats or so many divers in the water, so it was nice.'
Friends who had dived with Abdelsalam over the previous years began to contact him to ask if they could still dive together. 'I took them privately and organised diving trips for them, and they were very happy with the way I did things,' he said. 'Taking them new places like camping in Ras Mohamed and shore diving. From there everything started so I got in contact with ex-colleagues and friends. They liked the idea and gave me their full support.'
Abdelsalam, 31, the son of two teachers from the northern Egyptian town of Kom Hamada, became fascinated by diving after watching scuba-related movies and TV, and after listening to the stories told by diving instructors based in the port city of Alexandria, around 100km to the northwest of his hometown. While working at the time as a lifeguard and swimming instructor, Abdelsalam learned to dive in 2004, before earning his divemaster certification in 2006.
After working and diving around Egypt in Alexandra, Marsa Matrouh, Sharm El Sheikh, Taba and Marsa Alam, Abdelsalam became an instructor in 2010, where, as a fluent speaker of German and English as well as his native Arabic, he swiftly found employment at one of Sharm's leading dive centres.
That all changed in 2015, after flights to Sharm airport ceased in the wake of the Russian airline disaster. The downturn in tourism had a huge impact on the Egyptian economy, particularly for the thousands of Egyptians who found themselves suddenly unemployed. As dive centres and hotels began to close, Abdelsalam found himself wanting to make a difference.
'When the business crises started in Sharm and the dive centre where I used to work closed, I had no other thing to do and no job, and people decided to leave Sharm,' he said. 'Sharm became like a ghost town and many of my friends had trouble with money and living and that was bad, so I decided to make something to help all of us.'
If there was any positive result in the loss of business, it was the fact that the reefs exhibited a resurgence to the type of diving not seen around Sharm since the 1990s. Fewer boats and fewer divers resulted in the return of schools of fish and larger pelagics to the world-famous reefs of Ras Mohamed and the Strait of Tiran.
Although most of the big name centres have since re-opened, albeit with smaller premises in some cases, starting a new dive centre at a time when others remained closed was a risk. When asked why he chose to make that decision, Abdelsalam's response was straightforward:
'Easy answer,' he said. 'I just love Sharm like many people do, and I cannot give it up. I want to do my best to make this place alive again, and I am sure people will keep coming to Sharm by different ways...they will keep coming,'
'And diving in Sharm is very beautiful!' he adds.
For information on how to get to there, check out Daniel Stokes' comprehensive list of routes to Sharm El Sheikh.