Tour Operators Cheer Lifting of Egypt Travel Alert
The U.S. State Department’s recent removal of Egypt from its list of travel alerts was a shot heard round the world by tour operators, and U.S. operators were relieved and hopeful that it is a sign that tourism to Egypt may soon return to normal levels.
“These past few months have been a struggle for Egypt,” said Ady Gelber, president and CEO of IsramWorld. “However, U.S. tourism to Egypt is on its way back to normal. IsramWorld believes in Egypt as a major travel destination; the company has always and will always maintain a presence in Egypt.”
IsramWorld kept operating its tours to Egypt throughout the entire period when the Arab Spring frightened away many would-be travelers to Egypt. But though the tours were offered, few Americans were booking them. Now with Egypt’s elections successfully completed, the mood is changing and Americans are starting to warm up to travel to Egypt again. So far, however, while most operators are seeing an encouraging jump in interest, the closing of sales is still slow.
“Travelers seem to be starting to think about Egypt more seriously now,” said Bob Drumm, president of General Tours. “We are quoting more frequently now than any time in the last 18 months. Those who take the plunge are still returning as awestruck as ever.” The number of clients who are taking that plunge is still small, said Drumm, “but these are promising steps forward.”
Thomas Stanley, COO of Cox & Kings, The Americas, remarked that this is a great time to visit Egypt. “There has been very little anti-American sentiment throughout in the new government. Our clients who have traveled recently to Egypt were welcomed with open arms,” Stanley said. “New democracies are never neat but we are very encouraged by what we are seeing. Americans who travel to Egypt this year will experience the warmest possible welcome. After all, the U.S. fully supported the revolution. Sites will be uncrowded and prices will be great. Egypt is the eternal destination, and we fully expect tourism to return to top levels within the next few years. Now is the time to go.”
Phil Otterson, president of A&K, said Americans who go to Egypt will be greeted more fondly than ever. “Tourism is one of the main sources of income and foreign currency in Egypt. With one in every eight jobs in the tourism sector, people are eager to get back to work and welcome tourists again to their country,” he said. “When the Sanctuary Sun Boat III tied up at the Akenaton dock in El Minya earlier this week, the local people set up tables and chairs with a live band to celebrate the return of Nile cruises. And today our guests were welcomed by the governor in Menya, which lies at the boundary of upper and lower Egypt.”
Tour operators agree on one thing. The return of tourism to Egypt is a matter of when, not if. “Despite the challenges of recent years, we remain bullish about the long-term travel prospects to Egypt,” said Steve Born, vice president of marketing of Globus. “It simply has too much to offer to keep it down. Recovery is a process, though, and the lifting of the travel alert is a significant step in that process. Ultimately, quality product and good pricing to Egypt will speed the recovery, and we committed to that in 2013 and beyond, highlighted by our new ships and itineraries (for Avalon) on the Nile and Lake Nasser.”
But so far, though tour operators are seeing encouraging signs of interest, few are actually pulling the trigger. According to Marc Kazlauskas, president of Insight Vacations, “We can tell there is increased interest by our website, the pages they’re viewing. They’re viewing Egypt. They’re viewing Jordan. I think people are waiting and seeing, and as soon as they see a sign that makes them feel more comfortable I think it will come back very strong.”
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