|The Nile in Luxor; the city’s newly restored Avenue of the Sphinxes has aroused interest in travelers.|
Just a year ago, no one could have predicted that the Arab Spring (which has extended into summer and fall) would begin with a protest in Cairo, Egypt. But Hosni Mubarak—the former president—is out of power, the protests have calmed down and Egypt is building its new government. However, while the images of the protests are inspiring, they may also make some travelers apprehensive about returning to the once-popular destinations.
Ya’lla Tours USA’s President Ronen Paldi says that the popular tour operator’s numbers to Egypt are down since winter but have been improving in recent weeks. “Americans are seriously returning to Egypt,” he says, adding that all the hot spots (Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Alexandria) and Nile cruises still get plenty of visitors.
Rami Girgis, Abercrombie & Kent’s Egypt & Middle East product manager, says that bookings for this year are picking up for fall, with strong interest in the restoration of the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor (an archaeological treasure trove, lined with hundreds of newly discovered stone guardians). Amr Badr, managing director of Abercrombie & Kent Egypt, says that hotel occupancies in Cairo are approximately 28-45 percent and higher at the Red Sea resorts—“quite encouraging considering that the summer months are low season for travel to Egypt.”
But these promising numbers don’t mean that travelers aren’t concerned. Paldi says clients ask about safety, accessibility and protection on Egypt tours, while Girgis notes that they are worried about anti-American sentiment.
To address these concerns, tour operators are creating new programs. Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) has a new itinerary that, rather than glossing over this past winter’s events, celebrates them and invites visitors to be part of the historic moment. The “Egypt: A Moment in History” tour has fewer inclusions than a standard A&K journey, Girgis says, but offers a strong value. The company has also worked with its partners to provide significant discounts on various small-group, escorted itineraries. Likewise, Ya’lla has created two “low-end, less-expensive programs,” as Paldi calls them, and has a 15 percent discount on all programs through the end of next September.
But discounts won’t mean anything if clients are worried about going, and that is the first step tour operators (and agents) need to face in selling travel to Egypt. “It is not about convincing [people],” Paldi says. “If someone is terrified for their life, we simply suggest they don’t go, as nothing that is said will be good enough. The reality is that every faction of the Egyptian society is eager to welcome foreign tourists, the tourism industry is well protected, and not even a single tourist was hurt during the February revolution. Moreover, it is now the best time to visit Egypt as tourism is down and there is more time and less crowding to visit the sites.”
A&K, meanwhile, is posting stories from recent tours to Egypt on its Facebook page to show potential visitors that it is safe and still a worthwhile destination. One of such posts reads: “We felt completely safe. It never crossed our mind once we got there last month. We loved the Egyptian people and felt like royalty. They were incredible. I wouldn’t hesitate to go! I even traveled with two young children.”
On the hotel front, Cesare Rouchdy, Four Seasons’ regional director of marketing for Egypt, says that February was the worst occupancy month following the revolution, but that the brand’s four Egyptian hotels have seen “gradual growth month over month” since then, with September’s numbers reaching the low-40 percent region. “The last quarter also looks promising, with the parliamentary elections now confirmed for November 21 this year,” he says.
Of course, Rouchdy adds, leisure clients still have concerns about safety and security in Cairo, but agents should assure them that the demonstrations were not aimed at foreigners. “There was not a single incident reported that was targeting foreign visitors,” he says.