LOS ANGELES, November 6, 2013 — Travel to Egypt may be a bit more adventurous these days but for those willing to buck the trends, it may be the best time ever to see some of civilization’s oldest and most stunning relics. Gone are the lines to get into the dazzling tombs of Karnak at Luxor. Quiet are the sands at the Sphinx and Pyramids at Giza just outside of Cairo. Peaceful are the resorts along the Nile and coastal Red Sea where upgrades are easy and there are plenty of lounge chairs at the pool. Tourism to Egypt is as eternal as the obelisks that honor the Pharaohs. All that’s missing right now are the crowds.
Most U.S.-based tour operators are putting Egypt on hold until next year and taking a wait and see approach thanks to the uncertainty in the country. For one tour company, however, Egypt is the perfect place to be and clients are sending their thank you’s for the chance to be able to tour the country at such an optimal and historic time.
America Israel Travel based in Calabasas, CA has resumed tours to Egypt just in time for the temperate high season when Egypt’s perfect weather cooperates. The company specializes in travel to Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Greece and Egypt taking escorted groups, whether independent travelers or religious affiliation groups, to some of the world’s most important historical sites. What travelers do not realize, says Noam Matas, CEO of America Israel Tours, is that those protests that may be erupting are happening at specific places and inside the city of Cairo.
“Yes, there is a lot going on in Egypt right now. And it is historic; there is no doubt about that. But it really is not happening where tourists are or where they are going,” says Matas. “We have a very professional crew on the ground in Cairo and we can easily avoid any problems. The fact is that our guests are reporting some of the best times ever – there are few tourists there right now and no one is targeting tourists. In fact, the Egyptian people are welcoming them because they know how important tourism is to the Egyptian economy.”
Tourism earned Egypt $9.75 billion in FY 2012-13, which ended in June, before the most recent violence erupted. But that figure was down from $11.6 billion in 2009-10, just before the overthrow of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Last July and August, tourist arrivals crashed by nearly 50 percent, according to Egypt’s Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou, and losses since the army ousted the president are estimated at $1 billion per month. The country’s tourism has rallied in the past and from worse situations, namely a shooting spree in 1997 that left 58 tourists dead at Queen Hatshepsut’s temple near Luxor. But the travelers came back by 1999 and in numbers that far surpassed the 1997 pre-incident levels.
The tourism ministry in Egypt is keeping eyes forward. It recently launched campaigns in Europe to bring tourists back and at World Travel Mart, happening this week in London, Minister Zaazou outlined the destination’s plans for the next 12 months. “We want to effectively communicate that the country’s key tourism destinations are safe to visit,” said a spokesman from the ministry.
“If there is danger at all it is not for Westerners and certainly not for the groups we are taking,” said Matas. “Rather, a tourist might run into more danger just trying to cross a street. And for the chance to get up close and personal to such globally important and perennial pieces of history – the Sphinx, the mummies at the Egyptian Museum, walls of King Tut’s tomb and so many other otherwise crowded quarters within Cairo and the Karnak Necropolis – this is not a chance you may ever get again.”
America Israel Travel has a comprehensive Into the Promised Land tour through Egypt, Israel and Jordan that is taking advantage of the slow down in tourism in Egypt with significantly reduced rates. In Egypt, the tour focuses on such sites as the pyramids at Giza, the Sphinx, the Egyptian Museum, and the Sinai Peninsula. Borders are crossed easily with company ground handlers onsite to move guests through the immigration windows.
“This is something we offer: the group stays with one company, and stays consistent and together through the whole trip. Each country guide knows exactly where the group was two days ago and knows where they will be in a week. Plus the group does not split to lose some members and take on others as the tour progresses through different countries. Also it is important to have trustworthy staff to handle the border crossings and this is something we offer,” Matas said.
America Israel Travel is running two departures a month for tours that include Egypt in the itinerary.
“We don’t see a danger there and we don’t see a reason to slow down,” added Matas. “Although people admit being nervous about going before the trip, they are raving when they get back. There is a demand for Egypt and we think now is actually a great time to go.”
Note to Reader: A November 6, 2013 U.S. State Department alert “continues to warn U.S. citizens of the risks of travelling to Egypt and strongly advises U.S. citizens to defer all but essential travel because of the continuing political and social unrest.”
Lark Gould is an author of more than eight books on travel and a journalist who has been covering the travel industry for more than two decades.
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