U.S. tour operators temporarily cancel upcoming itineraries // © 2011
In response to the political unrest in Egypt, U.S. tour operators and cruise lines have been making passenger safety a top priority. The U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) reported that its member companies have successfully evacuated scores of guests from Egypt, getting them home safely and providing alternate travel arrangements when needed.
“At the outset of the demonstrations, USTOA member companies responded immediately, going to extraordinary lengths to handle the crisis,” said Terry Dale, president of the USTOA. “Member companies coordinated arrangements for their clients to get them out of harm’s way, overcoming numerous challenges. Obstacles included dealing with curfews, restricted telecommunications and across-the-board airline cancellations.”
Tour operators have been working in cooperation with their offices, representatives and support staff in Egypt, along with security experts and crisis management personnel, to coordinate evacuations and ensure safety.
Steps taken include:
• Successfully rerouting clients to other countries when U.S. flights were canceled or unavailable
• Moving guests on Nile cruises and those in the center of Cairo to hotels near Cairo airport in order to facilitate their departure as flights became available
• Keeping in close contact with clients’ loved ones so that they would be aware that their family and friends were safe and en route home
• Arranging for charter flights and U.S. State Department flights when necessary
• Providing daily and hourly briefings when possible
• Positioning staff at hotels where guests were staying to care for their needs
Most tour operators and cruise lines have canceled or rescheduled their Egypt itineraries or ports of call and are allowing travelers to reschedule their trips for a future date without penalties, issuing credits for future travel, offering clients alternate destinations or refunding payments. Other companies are working with their clients on an individual basis. A case-by-case update on modifications and cancelations follows.Costa Cruises
Costa Cruises has announced that all of its cruise itineraries calling at Egypt and Tunisia have been modified, canceling all port calls in these two countries and offering alternative ports of call.
For the scheduled Red Sea cruises on the Costa Allegra and Costa Marina, the itinerary will now concentrate on calls in Jordan and Israel, with turnaround operations taking place at Aqaba, Jordan. To accommodate guests who have already booked these cruises, Costa Cruises will offer alternative itineraries and dates of departures.
On Mediterranean cruises that include a one-day call at Alexandria, that call has been replaced by a one day-call in Greece or Israel. On Mediterranean seven-day cruises including a one-day call at Tunis, Tunisia, that call will be replaced by a one-day call at Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Malta; or Cagliari, Italy.
Costa Cruises will resume its original scheduled programs and reinstate ports of call in Egypt and Tunisia when the relevant authorities in both countries declare the restoration of stability and safety. Big Five
Most of Big Five’s guests traveling in Egypt departed during the initial days of protests, and others were diverted to Jordan or Israel.
“Once we knew our guests were out of harm’s way,” said Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five, “we could focus on the safety of the staff in our Egypt office and their families. Although challenging, we have, in fact, been in touch with our Cairo office, and I am glad to report that they are safe.”
Big Five is reaching out to its clients who have arranged an Egypt trip scheduled for the near future. Clients have the option of postponing the trip for up to a year or choosing an alternate destination, both without penalty. Lindblad Expeditions
Lindblad Expeditions safely evacuated all 62 of its guests in Cairo — including a travel agent from California — on Jan. 29 via Zurich. Founder Sven Lindblad orchestrated an evacuation plan with the help of his U.S. and Egypt teams.
“Our team was prepared, and we decided that getting our guests out of Egypt as soon as possible was the sole option,” wrote Lindblad in a letter to his team about the challenges and overall success of the evacuation. “All guests … took off for Zurich at 4:07 p.m., seven minutes after the new curfew of 4 p.m. was imposed. Arrangements had been made for a transfer, hotel and dinner in Zurich and then on Sunday, guests via a number of different routes, returned home. All the while, family members were kept informed. It was like a military evacuation executed perfectly.”Isramworld
Isramworld reported that all of its clients who were on an Egypt tour when the unrest began have been safely evacuated and are home in the U.S. With dozens of travelers in Egypt when the protests began, senior staff at Isramworld’s Cairo and New York offices worked around the clock to ensure passengers were kept away from the turmoil in the streets and to get them home safely.
“We are insisting that the airlines, hotels and cruise companies with whom we’re allied make changes without imposing penalties,” said Isramworld president and CEO Ady Gelber. “We, of course, have waived all change and cancellation fees on our part.” Ritz Tours
Ritz Tours, which began offering journeys to Egypt last month, has canceled its February group departures for Egypt destinations. Clients will not be assessed any penalties and will be refunded their full tour fare (less the cost of the entry visa).
“Client safety is our number-one priority,” said Martin Chan, president of Ritz Tours. “We join the world in hoping that there is a swift resolution to the violence in Egypt.”Travel Corporation
The Travel Corporation and its sister brands — including Trafalgar, Contiki Holidays and Insight Vacations — are continuing to monitor the situation in Egypt and, at press time, has canceled upcoming tours due to arrive in Egypt through Feb. 12. Clients may choose alternative tours or a full refund.
Travelers booked to travel to Egypt from Feb. 13-28 and who wish to cancel and rebook their tours will be issued a letter of credit in the amount of any penalty assessed. This letter of credit will be valid for travel through the end of 2011. Goway
Goway passengers scheduled to travel to Egypt through Feb. 15 were given the option of postponing their trip, transferring to any one of Goway’s other worldwide destinations or receiving a full refund for the land portion of the tour. Passengers departing from Feb. 16-28 have the option of postponing their trip or transferring to an alternate Goway destination.
Abercrombie & Kent
As a continued precaution, Abercrombie & Kent has canceled tours and cruises in Egypt through March 31. The tour operator has waived cancelation penalties and provided a full refund to qualifying guests.
According to A&K, the majority of clients who were scheduled to travel to Egypt in the coming weeks have decided to postpone their trips until the situation resolves, while a few guests have chosen alternate destinations including East Africa and the Galapagos.
“The work that was done to get us out of Cairo was remarkable and beyond my expectations,” said an A&K guest from Houston, Texas. “The staff was amazing and selfless to ensure that we were safe and as comfortable as possible through a terrible ordeal.”
Viking River Cruises
Viking River Cruises successfully moved passengers from Cairo to Frankfurt, Germany, via a charter flight. All 91 guests were taken to a Frankfurt hotel and were scheduled to travel back to North America.
“When we took off [from] Cairo, we all broke out in a round of applause and we did it again when we landed in Frankfurt because we were happy to be safe,” said cruise guest Betty Stein of Lafayette Hill, Pa.
The line has cancelled its Egypt itineraries for all departures through Feb. 28 and is working to rebook clients scheduled to visit the destination. Ya’lla Tours USA
Ya’lla Tours USA has postponed any future departures to Egypt until Feb. 13 and will reassess as the date draws nearer. Ya’lla is in touch with its suppliers to determine how to handle potential credits or refunds, and April and May departures have had its final payment deadlines shortened from 60 days to 45 days to allow for additional assessment of the situation.
General Tours World Traveler
Guests scheduled to depart with General Tours World Traveler to Egypt through Feb. 28 have now been contacted and offered a choice of rescheduling their trip or receiving a full cash refund. Travelers booked from March 1-31 will be offered the choice of a later departure or a travel credit for the full value of their booking valid for one year.
Despite the challenges on the ground, General Tours’ Cairo-based staff was able to maintain regular contact with all guests who were traveling in Egypt. The company reported that everyone has departed Cairo safely.Globus Family of Brands
Globus Family of Brands has canceled upcoming tour and cruise departures to Egypt through Feb. 28. Only Cosmos tours and Avalon Waterways cruises are affected at this time, and clients scheduled for these departures can rebook their tour or cruise without penalty or choose to receive a refund.