12 years ago, Dietmar Kreuer founded SEKEM Reisen (SEKEM Travel) with the aim to offer tourists the opportunity to experience the sustainable and holistic approach of SEKEM by themselves. With SEKEM News Dietmar Kreuer talked about the beginnings of SEKEM Reisen, ethical tourism, the new website and the tourism crisis in Egypt.
Dietmar Kreuer: As a teacher for religion in senior classes of a Waldorf school, I had many questions about Islam. To deal with the subject only by secondary literature was unsatisfying. When Dr. Abouleish held a seminar about Islam at the Goetheanum in Dornach I was very grateful and interested. The participants of this seminar expressed their desire for deepening the topic and Dr. Abouleish offered this in SEKEM. I then wrote about it in the teachers’ letter and organized the first seminar on Islam in SEKEM in 1997. The seminar became an annual event. Soon afterwards, I was asked to offer SEKEM visits also without seminars, because SEKEM itself is already interesting enough. Dr. Abouleish immediately allowed me to bring travelers to the SEKEM Farm under the name of SEKEM Reisen. It went very successful, so that I registered a company in 2004. After the awarding of the Alternative Nobel Prize and the membership in the World Economic Forum in 2003, the interest to see and experience the “miracle in the desert” grew even stronger.
SN: How does a typical SEKEM trip look like?
D.K.: When booking the basic journey SEKEM PUR visitors stay at the beautiful guest house on the farm. They get a full day tour of the large terrain and receive insights to the many different SEKEM institutions. Then, two days with the highlights in and around Cairo follow: the Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum, the Bazaar and much more. Thursday belongs to SEKEM again. The guests attend the weekly school celebration, visit several companies and at the end of the working day they participate in the weekly closing circle with around 800 SEKEM employees. On Fridays, there is a full-day excursion to the Oasis Fayoum, where, among others, SEKEMs contracted farmers will be visited. On Saturday the participants go to see the Islamic and Coptic Cairo and on Sunday the trip ends.
If you would like to learn more from Egypt, you can book a connecting trip to Luxor, the Red Sea or the desert at the Oasis Bahariya. We also offer a Nile cruise with a luxurious sailboat, a Dahabeya. All trips can usually be booked at any time for 2 persons or more.
SN: SEKEM Reisen has dedicated itself to “ethical tourism”. What does that exactly mean?
D.K.: Long before the first travel companies in Germany started to offer sustainable and ethical tourism that is compatible with local people, SEKEM had already promoted sustainability and an ethical approach to employees, partners and nature. This is how SEKEMs philosophy has also built the base for the connecting travels. For example, instead of sailing 200 km between Luxor and Aswan with a diesel-powered engine ship, we sail across the Nile with a wind-driven Dahabeya. And, during desert tours we ride on camels, which are kept with organic food and without beating.
SN: Recently, SEKEM Reisen completely redesigned and relaunched its web presence. What was the main purpose for this?
D.K.: The main impulse was to provide the website also in English language. Besides, we want to have an adaptive and therefore always readable offer on all devices. Last but not least we want to have a modern self-adaptive Content Management System which helps us to adapt the content regularly by ourselves.
SN: Since the revolution in 2011, Egypt has been struggling with the number of visitors, as potential tourists are deterred by negative headlines on the media. Did this also affect SEKEM Reisen and, if so, how do you convey to your guests that a trip to SEKEM and Egypt is safe and worthwhile?
D.K.: Since 2011, the number of SEKEM travels decreased by more than 50%. In 2013, there were only 16 travelers throughout the whole year. The consequences for many people working in the tourism sector in Egypt are very serious. When the number of tourists in the past were 1,000 to 250 salespeople, who scratched a living, I estimate now that the proportion has decreased to 100 to 250! Especially difficult is the situation in Luxor and Edfu, where the coachmen of horse-drawn carriages are even fighting about guests.
As organizer of SEKEM Reisen, I travel to the country regularly and I always feel safe. I experience only kindness and the urgent desire that the tourism may recover again!
Interview: Sherif Abou El Naga