Tourism Minister Wins Battle Over Almog Beach Hotel Project

Panel overrules Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, who warned construction would damage Eilat reef.

A plan to build a large hotel on Almog Beach south of Eilat was approved yesterday by a government panel, despite strong objections by Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan.

The new hotel is to be built near the Underwater Observatory in an area where a two-story commercial structure already exists. That structure has been dormant for the past two years. The hotel is slated to have eight stories and 160 rooms, around which commercial space will be built for a total of 2,500 square meters.

The plan was approved by the ministerial committee for internal affairs and services.

Erdan said he objected to the plan because the hotel was only 60 meters away from the Almog Beach Nature Reserve and 150 meters away from the coral reef. Construction of the hotel, he argued, would damage one of the only areas in Eilat where there is continuous open space between the mountains near the beach and the beach itself.

The presence of the hotel will also mean many more visitors and activity at the reef, which will put the reef at risk.

Erdan's demand that the hotel be constructed according to environmental standards was accepted, but not his demand that the top story be made public space, such as a lookout or a restaurant, or his demand that the developer complete construction of a public promenade near the beach.

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov attacked Erdan for what he said were his repeated attempts to oppose projects deemed essential to tourism development.

Misezhnikov called Erdan's objections "populist" and said: "The public is responsible and understands the need for balance between nature protection and economic and tourist development. Eilat must continue to develop the local tourist industry to help it compete for tourists with the rest of the region.

Minister Benny Begin, who also opposes construction of the hotel, said it was precisely in the interests of tourism that maximum consideration be given to the environment and nature protection.

The Society for the Protection of Nature issued a statement saying: "The Eilat beaches are a national asset and all planning institutions and decision makers should approach development projects in that way. But unfortunately, that is not the case. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel believes that a new hotel should not be built on Eilat's southern beaches, but rather on its northern beaches, which are more suitable for development."

Erdan said yesterday that he "regretted that Misezhnikov did not understand that the Environmental Protection Ministry's job was to protect the right of the public to enjoy nature and not allow every developer who wants to turn a greater profit to build indiscriminately."