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Undeniably, the tourism industry as a whole suffered a hit last year, and tourism to Egypt was not exempt from this trend, with a reported decline of approximately 2 percent, according to the Egyptian minister of tourism, Zoheir Garranah. This year, however, is proving to be a quite a different story.
For the first half of 2010, tourism revenue was up a remarkable 17.6 percent over last year (an increase of 24 percent alone in the first quarter), putting Egypt among the fastest-growing destinations in the world, said the minister of tourism. It also signals, along with record airline profits and an uptick in hotel bookings, that the recession may be ending, at least in the travel sector.
The economy in Egypt depends on tourism, foreign direct investment and the Suez Canal for foreign currency. Tourism, which accounts for more than 12 percent of the country’s jobs, generated $10.7 billion in 2009, with more expected this year.
In 2009, approximately 321,000 Americans visited Egypt, with that number expected to increase to 350,000 this year.
On the Road Again
Recently, the Egyptian Tourist Authority — along with representatives from the Egyptian Hotel Association, the Egyptian Travel Agents Association, the Egyptian Tourism Federation and more than a dozen tour companies specializing in travel to Egypt — undertook a series of roadshows designed to sell the country to tour operators and travel agents on the West Coast, stopping in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.
“We think [the roadshows] were a big success, and we hope to do a lot more of these in the future,” said Mohamed Hegazy, tourism attache-deputy director, U.S. and Latin America, for the Egyptian Tourist Authority’s New York office.
Hegazy said that new hotel construction throughout the country is proceeding at a rapid pace, with 150,000 rooms expected to be added within the next four years to the already existing 220,000 rooms.
“The climate for tourism in Egypt has never been better,” said Hegazy.
In addition, the government has poured billions of dollars into improving Egypt’s infrastructure, marketing and human resources. Part of the latter is to improve customer relations in the service sector, which means training workers in conjunction with the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and other well-known hospitality programs.
In the U.S., travel to Egypt is being marketed in several different ways. Currently, there are exhibits of King Tutankhamun’s treasures in two major cities, Denver and New York City, through early January 2011. The ever-popular exhibit of valuable artifacts promotes and sparks interest in Egypt’s incredibly rich history.
The Nile River is also being marketed to travelers as a gateway unto itself, affording modern visitors the privilege of traveling from the modern world of cosmopolitan Cairo to the preserved, ancient sites in Luxor, where the imposing Avenue of Sphinxes is currently being restored. The Avenue of Sphinxes is one of the most important archaeological and religious paths in the world, lined by hundreds of stone guardians linking the Temple of Luxor with the Temple of Karnak.
Flexibility also seems to be resonating with travelers booking Egypt. Samo Tours, one of the Egypt-based tour operators participating in the recent roadshow, is offering a flexible package that takes in the major sites within the span of a week but will also customize a trip for individuals or groups. Clients can also request a private car with a driver and personal Egyptologist.
Egypt is also selling itself as a destination for those seeking sun, sand and diving along its Red Sea coast and the Sinai Peninsula. There is even a budding eco-travel movement that wants to tap into the skills and knowledge of Egypt’s Bedouins and other tribal people who have been largely overlooked by the mainstream tourism industry.
In any event, the promotional campaigns seem to be working, according to Pamela Lassers, director of media relations for tour operator Abercrombie & Kent (A&K).
“Egypt is actually A&K’s most popular destination this year,” she said.
The newest addition to the tour operator’s portfolio is a five-star cruise on a dahabiya, the traditional sailboats that ply the Nile. A&K’s version is small enough to dock anywhere, but it doesn’t skimp on luxury. Each boat has four spacious cabins and two suites decorated with motifs inspired by Egyptian history, culture and geography. All cabins feature column-to-column windows and are fully air-conditioned.
Increasing airlift, EgyptAir will begin service on new Boeing 777-300 ER aircraft from New York to Cairo on Oct. 31. There are now flights from JFK to Cairo daily at 6:30 p.m.
According to Alday Hatour, the airline’s West Coast area sales manager, the layover time in New York is no longer prohibitive due to the airline’s membership in Star Alliance.
“Thanks to the interline connections, travelers can expect about a 2½-hour layover at JFK before they board their flight to Cairo,” Hatour said.
Terminal 3 at Cairo International Airport, open now for two years, has increased the airport’s capacity fivefold and also smoothed the arrival and departure process for clients flying to and from the U.S.
Also making Egypt more accessible to travelers and agents alike, the consulate General of the Arab Republic of Egypt has moved to Los Angeles, where, Hatour said, a diversity of national and ethnic groups makes for a broader potential client base.
“This is a new market,” said Hatour. “And these days, you get more for your dollar in Egypt.”