Up until the mid-1980s, the area that now holds Egypt's biggest resort city was virtually uninhabited. It wasn't unnoticed, however: Sharm el Sheikh overlooks the island of Tiran, and the narrow straits between the mainland and the island are a vital choke point for oil and other important supplies bound for Israel, and for many years it was actually held by the Israelis. Egyptian President Nasser's closure of the waterway in May 1967 was one of the triggers of the Six Day War, in which Egypt again lost control of the area to Israeli forces. It wasn't until after 1982, when the area was handed back to Egypt in exchange for a peace treaty under the Camp David Accords, that the town began to blossom as an international tourist destination. First came the divers, staying in rough-and-ready beach camps for the sake of the spectacular coral reefs just offshore and the profusion of wrecks in easy range of a day's boat trip. Today the majority of visitors are beach-holiday makers. Dozens of flights descend every day on Sharm International Airport, most direct from major European hubs.

Sharm is now plausibly claimed to contain one-third of all the hotels in Egypt, though a perhaps more telling statistic comes from the Egyptian government, which says that 86% of all the housing here is in the form of hotels, and only 3% houses the original Bedouin population of the area.