As Egypt’s travel industry builds back from a long slump following the Arab Spring, tour operators have come back to the destination, and the surging market is attracting new operators as well, looking for their own niches in the competitive market and individual ways to sell the destination.
Heritage Tours — a specialist in providing custom-designed, culturally rich touring packages in Morocco, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Sub-Saharan Africa, Israel and Jordan — is appealing to travelers who want to take their experience of Egypt beyond the basic, standard approach.
Heritage Tours’ business model is to offer independent, custom-tailored packages designed to provide “authenticity of local experience and insider access that is normally unattainable,” according to Kenneth Vasquez, the company’s destination manager for Egypt.
Founded in 1995, and nominated by Virtuoso for the last eight years as the Best FIT Tour Operator, Heritage Tours wants to distinguish itself in an increasingly competitive market by taking its services far beyond the standard offerings.
The typical Egypt program is comprised of Cairo, including the Pyramids at Giza, and a Nile cruise in Upper Egypt between Luxor and Aswan.
Even those few elements can be put together in a wide variety of ways. There are variations in the grades and styles of river boats, various possibilities for combining cruising and flying to and from Upper Egypt, various hotel choices, and many possible sites of interest to choose among in both Upper and Lower Egypt.
Heritage Tours is presenting a range of alluring possibilities that go beyond that basic nexus.
“We want to go beyond the Pyramids,” said Vasquez. “There is so much more. Egypt is also Alexandria, the Pearl of the Mediterranean. Only three hours overland in a car, and you are in a completely different world, a Greco-Roman world as opposed to a world of antiquities like Cairo.”
Alexandria, with its European architecture and Mediterranean setting seems like a different country from Cairo and the Nile. East of Alexandria is the wine-producing region of Gianaclis, which is gaining increasing attention in this era of foodies and amateur oenologists.
“If you go a little further west, you see El Alamein,” said Vasquez, “where there were two battles that were crucial for the desert war of World War II. You can see Italian, German and Allied cemeteries still there now, very well preserved, as well as a little museum. It’s a good day tour from Alexandria.”
Farther westward toward the Libyan border is the seaside resort of Mersa Matruh. “It’s a wonderful haven for Egyptians,” said Vasquez. “The local people make their vacations there. The tourist traffic is very low in Mersa Matruh.”
A three-hour drive south from Mersa Matruh is the Siwa Oasis, a place that Vasquez says: “[Mersa Matruh] really ignites my flame. It’s probably one of the most gorgeous places for isolation and detoxing that you can even begin to imagine. We’re all very involved with our computers and our smartphones and texting and emails and instant gratification. But, if you go to Siwa, there is none of that. You are almost forced to put all the automation stuff away and completely and utterly relax. I think that is very vital for today’s traveler.”
A favorite place of Heritage Tours is an eco resort at Siwa called Adrere Amella. It has no electricity. “There are no window panes in the windows,” said Vasquez. “The place is so safe and tranquil that you don’t even have locks on the doors. With no electricity, you have candles. You cannot reach anything by cell phone. You are forced to detox and completely relax.”
Other unusual selections on the Heritage menu include a journey up the Nile to visit a Nubian Village on Soheil Island to meet a Nubian family; a visit to the Silica Glass Field at the southern end of the Great Sand Sea in the Egyptian Western Desert, where there are chunks of yellowish glass-like material of unknown origin, perhaps the result of the impact of a meteor; a trip into the White Desert to the Bahariya Oasis to see The Valley of the Golden Mummies, a collection of more than 200 mummies discovered in 2001; and a visit to Sharm el Sheikh, a seaside resort that is great for Red Sea diving in the Gulf of Aqaba, where four countries can be seen from one vantage point.
Expanding on the basics
Heritage Tours is putting some scheduled departures on the market of basic packages in the classic Cairo-Upper Nile form, to provide a good starting point, and clients can use those as a basis upon which to build their own dream itineraries.
“We will offer a few departures,” said Vasquez, “but we would prefer for people to call us and interview with us so we can ask what are your likes and dislikes and what about the other people in your party? Then, we’ll custom design an itinerary just for you. Our specialty is independent luxury travel for independent travelers who want to be guided and have the VIP experience.
“For those who believe that Egypt is Cairo, pyramids and sphinx and a Nile Cruise, we say stay longer – there is much more.”