The lure of ancient civilizations, the teeming masses feeding excitement into the bustling, exotic city of Cairo and the small villages and towns still rich with the timelessness that will always be Egypt, have enticed million so travelers for centuries, making it one of the most popular destinations in the world.
Even today, not even a global financial meltdown could still Egypt’s siren song and as a result, beguiled North American travelers in the tens of thousands continued to make their way to the fabled Land of the Pharaohs during 2009. In fact, according to El Sayed Khalifa, director of the Egyptian Tourist Authority in New York, a little over 321,000 U.S. tourists visited Egypt in 2009, a 1 percent increase over the 319,000 U.S. visitors in 2008, with early indications of strong bookings for 2010.
As Khalifa points out, the reasons for the country’s popularity are obvious. “The history, the civilization and the unique monuments themselves from the Pharaonic era—Egypt has something you cannot find in other destinations in this respect. And also, the promotional efforts that Egypt is doing in different markets, including the American market. And I would also say the exhibitions of King Tut in all the American cities here, added to the interest and the excitement that made people want to go. Security is another factor,” he adds. “The government is taking care of those aspects of security, making sure its visitors are safe and secure.”
There’s also a new trend in desert tours in Egypt, Khalifa points out, particularly for adventure travelers. “There are desert safaris in Egypt in the western desert and because the Egyptian desert itself is beautiful, you can enjoy it in many different ways. It’s not just for the environment because you can even find some archaeological sites to enjoy,” he says. “Plus, there are nature attractions like hot springs and the white desert is very beautiful, one of the most beautiful deserts in Egypt. It’s all white like a desert made of chalk with formations made by Mother Nature. There is also a place called the black desert. You go very deep into the western desert, close to the border with Sudan where there are caves from the prehistoric era.”
But it’s the life blood of Egypt that can’t be missed—the legendary and magical Nile River with its pantheon of gods and goddesses, ancient temples and awe-inspiring monuments. And as a river cruise product, it’s truly unique because it combines leisure and luxury with a colossal cultural experience that can’t be duplicated anywhere.
uniworld Nile River cruises, in fact, do drive a lot of business to Egypt, which is one of the reasons Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection opted to build a new, six-star quality ship, the River Tosca, which was launched in October. “We had some growing pains with the first launch,” Guy Young, president and CEO of Uniworld, admits. “We had some deficiencies on the ship and we’re actually dry docking the ship through March 21 to make any necessary repairs.”
It’s mostly cosmetic repairs, Young explains. The wood floors in the restaurant and staterooms got scratched up when they moved in furniture and installed interior equipment. But the Tosca did sail through Feb. 1 and according to Young, the feedback they got from passengers was excellent. “The land content of our packages is extremely good, the tour guides are fantastic, the food and dining is excellent, the service delivery is excellent. But we did build this ship to be a six star vessel and we just weren’t pleased with some things on the ship so we’ve got to make some changes.”
Young is also excited about the potential demand for this new product and their long-term prospects for it. “Whenever I check the billboards and such, whenever the subject of Egypt comes up, there’s always a huge amount of interest, so I think this was a good decision for us to have a Uniworld ship in Egypt,” he says. “We have a lot of our past guests who are very interested in traveling with us again so we think long-term it’s going to be an absolute home run for us and it’s going to be a very good ship and destination for the company. We’re very excited and really believe it’s going to be very profitable for us.