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Interest in Egypt among U.S. travelers, which fell into a long, deep slumber following the Arab Spring unrest of 2011 and subsequent incidents, is steadily reawakening, with 2019 poised to be a strong year, according to tour operators and travel advisors specializing in the destination.
“Egypt has increased five-fold for us in the past year, with many of our departures selling out fast,” said Robert Drumm, president of the luxury tour company Alexander + Roberts. “We’ve been operating there throughout all the difficulties and have had a stream of travelers all along, but now things are booming. It’s our number-one product in the world right now.”
Why the upsurge? Drumm credits the relative calm in Egypt over the past couple of years, plus pent-up demand from travelers who have put off visiting for what many is a bucket-list destination.
“In particular, a lot of Baby Boomers who have avoided Egypt because of geopolitical reasons now feel the urge to travel there while they’re still able,” he said. “And word-of-mouth has helped dispel some fears. People are coming back and talking about the kindness of the people and how nice it was to be there without hordes of tourists.”
Similarly, Abercrombie & Kent has also seen “a tremendous jump in interest in Egypt,” said spokeswoman Jean Fawcett.
To address surging demand for 2019, the tour operator has added 34 departure dates to its flagship group journey Egypt & The Nile and also introduced a new tour, Family Egypt & the Nile, which includes special hands-on activities for teens and children.
Also beefing up its Egypt offerings is Scenic Cruises, which added departure dates for its fall 2019 Treasures of Egypt cruises along the Nile from Luxor to Aswan.
The rebound in tourism to Egypt is not just from the United. Several big European tour operators are seeing a surge, as well. In the first nine months of 2018, arrivals were up 40 percent, according to the Egyptian tourism ministry.
Agency Bookings Up
Travel agencies are also experiencing an uptick in demand, with Virtuoso recently reporting a 264 percent increase in Egypt bookings among the consortium’s member agencies during the past year. The destination was second only to another hot spot, Turkey, which experienced a 310 percent increase.
“We’re seeing a lot more interest in just the last two to four months,” said Ashraf Michael, owner of Egypt Tours and Travel in Darien, Illinois, which arranges luxury FIT programs. “There was a real downturn from the 2011 revolution until 2016, with interest almost completely dead in the U.S. market. The European market came back after a couple of years, but the U.S. always takes longer to rebound when there is unrest abroad.”
Michael is confident that momentum will continue to gather in 2019, providing that calm remains.
“Hotels in Cairo are now up to 85 percent occupancy, so I think we’re going to see an upswing,” he said.
What has not rebounded for his agency are Egypt programs that also include Israel and Jordan.
“Before the Arab Spring, Egypt, Jordan and Israel were a great combination that always sold really well together,” Michael said. “Now we’re just seeing demand for Egypt alone. Hopefully, if things calm down on the West Bank, Israel and Jordan will rebound too.”
What is Safe?
Diana Hechler, owner of D Tours Travel, an agency in Larchmont, New York, is also seeing renewed interest in Egypt after years of dormancy.
“It’s not a floodgate, but I’m definitely getting more clients asking about Egypt and saying they are ready to go,” she said. “My first client in a long time went there last March and I’m currently working on a customized program for another client next month.”
With Egypt a personal favorite, Hechler has no hesitation about recommending the destination and addressing safety concerns.
“When people ask me if it’s safe, I ask them what place is safe,” she said. “Strasbourg was safe until the other day. As long nothing happens in a place for awhile, people feel OK about going there. It’s an emotional thing.”
Dan Ilves, senior vice president of leisure for The Travel Store in Los Angeles, is also seeing an uptick in interest.
“One of our agents recently completed a group tour to Egypt and a second one is starting to fill up — it’s not a huge development, but a couple of years ago we didn’t even have that,” he said. “I think the outlook is good. Egypt is an amazing destination and now is a great time to go before all the crowds come back.”