One major tour operator moved quickly last week to cancel upcoming tours to Egypt, while others said they were waiting to see how the situation unfolded following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.
That was last week. By Monday, as conditions in Egypt deteriorated, Egypt’s tourism seemed poised to suffer its second severe blow in less than two years. Morsi’s supporters were reported to be calling for an uprising after clashes in Cairo overnight killed dozens.
Tour operators react
Abercrombie & Kent had already cancelled 10 small groups scheduled for July, August and September.
Avalon Waterways, one of the Globus Family of Brands, on Monday cancelled six departures for its Highlights of Egypt programs scheduled for August. Fewer than 20 clients were affected.
On Friday, Tauck Tours said it didn’t have an Egypt program scheduled until October and it was monitoring the situation there. Globus, whose next scheduled Egypt departure is Aug. 9, was to meet on Monday to assess developments, according to a spokeswoman.
Before Monday’s developments, some tour operators said they expected their fall bookings to Egypt to hold firm.
“We do have bookings for September, October and November, and there have been no cancellations,” said Neomie Menahem, vice president of operations and reservations for Isram World’s Eastern Mediterranean department.
Tour operators’ and travel agents’ early low-key reaction to the Egyptian military’s ouster of Morsi was partly due to timing. This is low season for Egypt travel because of the intense heat there, and tour operators had few imminent departures scheduled.
“Most of our clients were returning from Egypt by June 28,” said Menahem. “July and August tend to be slow because it’s so hot.”
Tour operators initially said they saw Morsi’s ouster as a positive, coming at a time when business to Egypt was improving after plunging in the wake of the Egyptian revolution two years ago.
“Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief,” said James Berkeley of Destinations and Adventures International on Friday.
The Los Angeles-based boutique wholesaler had two small groups with visits planned for July and August. “I think both groups will go but it will take a couple of weeks to see,” said Berkeley, president of the firm.
“The caveat is if the Islamists throw in a monkey wrench, and that’s a wait and see.”
With Monday’s events, that monkey wrench appeared to have been thrown.
As it is, tour operators’ Egypt programs were still suffering from the turmoil in 2011.
Berkeley said his Egypt business had been off 80% from two years ago. “The core classic Egypt tour was decimated. But business has been coming back ever so slightly. We’ve got a lot of forward bookings.”
Rita Zawaideh, president of Caravan Serai Tours, said her Egypt business was also down by about 80% prior to recent events. “It did pick up a little but went back down within the last five months.”
Last week her company postponed travel for eight clients going to Egypt and gave them the option of choosing other destinations. The company specializes in the Mideast, North Africa and Turkey, with about 30% of its business in Egypt.
“Back when the first revolution took place you had Americans willing to go back, and tour operators willing to go back. But this time around, it will take longer,” Zawaideh said last week. “Everyone understands it’s more volatile than before.”
Roof caved in
Susan Weissberg, president of Coral Gables, Fla.-based Wyllys Professional Travel, said she “barely sold Egypt after the Arab Spring. The roof caved in; some clients were going but very minimally.”
Weissberg, an Israel and Mideast specialist, recalled the “booming business” Egypt was doing before the Arab Spring. “Our numbers were way up [at the agency] and Egypt had its best year ever in 2010 [the year before the revolution].” That year a record 14 million tourists visited the country.
“So many people have told me once the situation is more stable they would love to go,” Weissberg said last week. “All I need to do is start making phone calls and they will listen to me. But things need to calm down.”