Elhamy ElZayat, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation and one of the architects of the newly created Egyptian constitution, is feeling hopeful. Hopeful that if the nation’s leaders stick to the “road map”—a plan for a referendum on changes to the constitution and for parliamentary and presidential elections by March—tourism from the U.S. will start flowing back into Egypt some time during Easter, and that the “real numbers will come back in the fall,” he says. Those real numbers he mentions, well, he’s hoping that they are very close to 2010 numbers, when the country welcomed 361,000 visitors from the U.S. Incidentally, this year’s numbers were 127,000 for the first six months.
With that in mind, we called up a few tour operators—well, most we actually had the chance to chat with during last month’s 2013 USTOA Annual Conference & Marketplace in Scottsdale—to find out about bookings and their thoughts on tourism to Egypt in 2014. Most of the tour operator principals we spoke with, in fact, were cautiously optimistic, and even more interesting, many of them actually told us—take note, agents—that now was the best time to send clients to Egypt because there are no crowds at the top tourism sites, and as most people who work in the travel industry know, it’s actually a very safe destination.
Abercrombie & Kent (A&K), says Rami Girgis, product manager, is committed to operating all its departures in 2014. In terms of 2013 bookings, he explains, “We had some luxury small group journeys operate in 2013 in the first half of the year and a few individuals traveling in the second part of the year.” With offices in Cairo and Upper Egypt, A&K is continuously monitoring the situation and receives updates of what’s happening on the ground, and they do keep their eye on the travel warnings that are in place. Girgis says that the company is waiting for the elections, and hopes that after that the situation will improve dramatically and trigger a tourism uptick.
Recommend: As of press time, prices for the 10-day Egypt & the Nile package have been slashed by 50 percent with rates starting at $3,695 pp in March and April, and $3,495 pp in May. The itinerary includes a 4-night Nile River cruise; a visit to off-the-beaten-path Denderah; a ride on a camel in Giza; and visits to Memphis and the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser in Sakkara, as well as the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, among other offerings. (800) 554-7016; abercrombiekent.com
cox & kings
Scott Wiseman, president, the Americas, for Cox & Kings, says that many of the people who have continued to go to Egypt through the current situation are people with “peripheral ties to the travel industry and who hear that it’s a wonderful place to visit, it’s perfectly safe and there are no crowds.” He adds that it’s also the “tried and true traveler who is going back.” He’s optimistic that once Egypt comes back as the hot destination it’s been in the past, “it will come back quickly.” He notes that post-9/11, Americans realized that things could happen at home and this “has really changed their outlook and I think it’s a positive experience. The more people travel and the more boomers take their kids, the more people are numb to it.” That said, he stresses that Americans want “safety, security; they want to travel with brands that if something does go wrong, they have a way of getting them out of there. The travel professionals are actually the best at this,” he emphasizes. “They are the validation to the client that it’s okay to go and we trust this company. So having a good travel professional [recommending us] takes the pressure off of us.”
Recommend: Cox & Kings offers primarily custom journeys and one suggested itinerary for 2014 is the 9-day Highlights of Egypt private journey. It includes, among many inclusions, visiting the Great Pyramids at Giza with an Egyptologist; exploring the Egyptian Museum in Cairo; visiting the Temples of Ramses II above the banks of Lake Nasser; and a cruise down the Nile. January to April rates start at $4,585 pp. (800) 999-1758; coxandkingsusa.com or coxandkingsusa.com/content/travel-advisor-portal-login
Goway decided to maintain its Egypt presence in its 2014 brochure, says Moira Smith, Goway’s general manager, Africa & Middle East. “We haven’t been actively promoting it, but we have been selling it, and as soon as we see the time is right, we will actively promote Egypt, because it’s an important destination for us and I love it.” In fact, she tells us enthusiastically, “One of my senior managers was in Egypt in June with his wife and he said it was both awe-inspiring and tragic because he was visiting the temples and the pyramids and it was almost as if they were on their own personal tour because there were no people. The tragedy is that so many Egyptians rely on tourists for their bread and butter, so it’s certainly had a huge impact on them.”
She stresses that Goway has tremendous faith in the destination, and “we have faith in our in-bound DMC to manage any situation that might arise.” She does point out that Goway is starting to see a trickle of requests, but, “unfortunately, it’s not by any stretch of the imagination a flood of requests for Egypt, but I do think it’s starting to come back.”
Recommend: Goway’s featured trip to Egypt is the 9-day Classic Egypt journey that features Cairo, the Pyramids and the Sphinx, Luxor and a cruise on the Aswan. Call for rates. (800) 557-2841; goway.com or gowayagent.com
Ady Gelber, CEO and president, IsramWorld, says that although the company has very few traveling to Egypt at the moment, “on a positive note, we have started to receive calls for Egypt for spring 2014.” He points out that the tourist areas are safe, because “the upheaval was not directed toward the tourists in Egypt.” He adds that IsramWorld “would not send clients to a destination that is unsafe. When we knew there would be an uprising in June, we canceled all departures. Our office was silent and asking us to wait and see.”
Speaking of IsramWorld’s offices in Egypt, he says they are open and have been open for the last three years. “Our office is very positive. In their last e-mail, they wrote ‘their arms are wide open to welcome their friends, visitors and tourists from all over the world again.’ It has been a long time since we’ve heard such a positive reaction from them.” Moreover, Gelber reminds us that Egyptian tourism authorities are investing and promoting tourism to Egypt again by unveiling a multimillion dollar overhaul at the Egyptian Museum and investing in the tourist infrastructure. “In 2014, there will be an increase in travel,” he says, “and in 2015, we shall see the boom again.”
Laudie Hanou, v.p., SITA World Tours, says that those travelers who did choose to go to Egypt this year through the current situation are “very educated, professional…they know what they are doing, what they want to see and they feel it’s the right time to go to Egypt because there are places that are totally free of people. It’s a nice time to go.” She points out that SITA never took its Egypt tours off the books. “SITA has always been consistent in promoting destinations that have that one-time civil unrest. We’ve moved forward with the support of the tourism board and the overall interest.” She adds that the company met with the Egypt tourism delegation during the USTOA conference and that they got the sense that once the constitution is finalized, “it will make a big difference in tourism going forward, so we are really excited.”
Recommend: SITA’s 8-day Land of the Pharaohs begins in Cairo and takes in Aswan, a Nile River cruise, Kom Ombo, Edfu, and Luxor. Through April, prices start at $1,895 pp. (800) 421-5643; sitatours.com or sitatours.com/AgentServices/index.php
Tauck’s president, Jennifer Tombaugh, says that the operator has kept Egypt in its brochures and those tours are open for sale in 2014. “We hope that they will fill,” she says, “and that they will be strong sellers moving forward. The challenge is even though we in the industry know it’s a relatively safe location, we are fighting against national and international media.” She stresses that Tauck is operating in Egypt, they are open for 2014 and intend to operate in 2014, “but we still have to continue to monitor and see.”
Recommend: The 13-day Egypt & Jordan: Timeless Treasures, Ancient Lands begins in Cairo, taking in all the must-see sites in Egypt with an included Nile River cruise, and then travels into Jordan, with visits to Petra and Wadi Rum, wrapping up with a visit to the Dead Sea. Rates start at $6,065 pp. (800) 788-7885; tauck.com or agent.tauck.com
“It’s a wonderful time to go, it’s the time to go because there are deals, less people, yes, they still have the congestion with cars because it’s Egypt, but it is the time to go,” says Jerre Fuqua, president of Travcoa, and the newly elected chairman of USTOA’s executive committee. He does point out, however, that Travcoa promoted a president’s trip to Egypt with him as the leader, but it “did not generate the type of response that we would’ve hoped for. This was a conscious decision that I made saying, ‘It’s time to go back to Egypt,’ but I made it at the wrong time because it was too early.” He says that Travcoa is committed to the destination in ways that differ from other operators, explaining that “in 1979, our founder went to Egypt after the Camp David Accords to reopen tourism to Egypt, so we have this rich history and I wanted to be part of that again and I wanted to sort of say, ‘Here we are again,’ because we have a lot of friends in Egypt, we have a lot of infrastructure in Egypt through our sister companies and I really wanted to lead that.” That said, after the president’s trip to Egypt was canceled, he heard from several well-traveled and well-educated people who said that one of the reasons they didn’t go was because their family wouldn’t recognize their reason for going, although they had been wanting to go for a long time. He says that the concerns are all “media driven. When they change the message, we will be there and we are ready to go because our programs are built and the Egyptians are waiting for us.”
Recommend: The 11-day Nile Revealed: Egypt itinerary includes a private Egyptologist throughout the entire trip and takes guests through Cairo, Giza, Memphis, Sakkara, Dashur, Aswan, Abu Simbel and Luxor, and includes a Nile River cruise. Rates for October departures start at $7,295. (800) 992-2003; travcoa.com