A&K president Phil Otterson predicts that demand for river cruises in Egypt will return to normal by 2016. // © 2014 Abercrombie & Kent
Feature image (above): The Nile River in Luxor, Egypt // © 2014 Thinkstock
Reporting strong demand for travel to Egypt this year, Abercrombie & Kent has added five new fall departures of its 10-day Egypt & the Nile itinerary.
“This is the beginning,” said A&K president Phil Otterson. “I expect business to be back to normal by 2016. “It’s been a waiting game for travelers, tour operators and Egyptians, but it looks like it’s finally turning a corner.”
A&K said a fall departure featuring Rami Girgis, a Conde Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist, sold out in less than three days and generated a long waiting list. A&K now has five departures of the itinerary in October/November 2014, including two that are nearly sold out.
Otterson said that despite some of the negative press, the company sees a profound change in the country following the national election that occurred at the end of May. Relying on reports from A&K staff in Egypt and his personal contacts there, Otterson believes there is a far calmer, more positive feeling throughout the country. Even before the election, the company’s single group departure in March was expanded to four departures based on demand.
The March president’s cruise, led by Otterson, had 72 people on board ages six to 80, with the overwhelming majority from the U.S. He said that while some were reassured by his presence and others attracted by discounts offered, the real force was pent-up demand.
“We had a comfortable, safe time,” he said. “And there was no fear on the part of the guests, only gratitude for the experience, which was only enhanced by the small number of tourists. We didn’t have to wait for anything."
Hopeful but Cautious
While travel agents and other river cruise lines are cautiously hopeful about a rebound of river cruising in Egypt for the U.S. market, they have not seen the same spike in demand and the general stance is to wait and see whether A&K’s experience is a one-time phenomenon or the harbinger of things to come.
Tom Baker, co-owner of the Houston-based CruiseCenter, and a Conde Nast Traveler leading cruise specialist, said he has not tracked any increase among his clients in cruising Egypt — although he would be delighted to see it. Baker, who was previously very active in sending clients to Egypt, said he personally wants to go back with a group “in the worst way."
Beth Levich, owner of Cruise Holidays of Portland and All About River Cruises in Lake Oswego, Oregon, is skeptical that U.S. travelers are ready to go back to Egypt via cruise ship. She hasn’t seen an increase in interest, either.
Avalon Waterways, which cancelled its Egypt departures for this year, has no plans to reintroduce the destination next year, according to managing director Patrick Clark.
“Our previous decision to cancel itineraries was based on facts available at the time — namely information we were receiving about political instability and protests,” Clark said. “Our overriding concern was for the safety of our passengers. We hope the presidential election brings stability — and tourists — to Egypt. It would be great to see Egypt return to its previous popularity among travelers. And, while we prepare our 2016 plans, we will be closely monitoring developments.”
Richard Marnell, Viking River Cruises’ senior vice president of marketing, said the company is seeing some Egypt cruise booking activity for the fall 2014 dates, even though none are sold out at this point.
“We’ve also received enough interest from customers that we made the decision to begin selling 2015 dates,” Marnell said. “There is still uncertainty among some travelers who would like to visit the region, but we are optimistic about the 2015 season, and we have slightly increased our number of departures for next year.”