Will Egypt's Latest Unrest Damage Tourism Recovery?

by Robin Amster
Will Egypt's Latest Unrest Damage Tourism Recovery?

The latest round of demonstrations in Egypt may jeopardize an already slow tourism recovery following the Arab Spring nearly two years ago.

Tour operators’ Egypt bookings dropped dramatically following the February 2011 uprising that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Since then their Egypt business has increased slowly but steadily.

But those gains may be derailed by protests that flared Nov. 23 against what many Egyptians consider a power grab by President Mohamed Morsi.

Damper on travel
“It will take a little while longer now,” Will Weber, director of Journeys International, said of the recovery. “Let’s wait awhile and see what’s going to happen. But I’m afraid this will be more of a damper on people going to Egypt now.

“We will be suggesting people consider other destinations now and [save] Egypt for a next trip,” Weber told Travel Market Report. “Still, I’m sure tourists would be safe. It’s an internal matter, not anti-American.”

The U.S. State Department currently has several “travel advisories” regarding travel to Egypt, but has not issued a more-severe “travel warning,” which would recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to a particular country.

At Insight Vacations, president Marc Kazlauskas said, “It’s too soon to tell if there will be any cancellations but this latest development hasn’t impacted tourists.”

No interruptions
Abercrombie & Kent operated several programs to Egypt in November, “very successfully and without any interruptions,” a spokeswoman said.

 “No A&K guests were affected in any way by the [latest] disturbances, and all tours were completed as scheduled, including tours to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.”

The spokeswoman said the company expects to continue all its tours as scheduled.

“It’s important for travel agents to put the situation in perspective,” she said. “More than 150,000 North Americans visited Egypt in the last year.”

But as James Berkeley, president of boutique wholesaler Destinations and Adventures International, said of the latest unrest, “none of this is good for tourism.”

Berkeley, whose company operates custom trips, said he hadn’t received any calls following the latest unrest, “although I expect one or two. I will tell clients to take a deep breath, and let’s see what happens.”

After the Arab Spring
Just before the latest protests, Berkeley told Travel Market Report that Egypt travel had “hit the nadir and is coming back.”

But the recovery has been slow. According to the Egyptian government’s statistics bureau, 5 million tourists visited the country in the first half of 2012. That represents a 23% increase over the same period in 2011. But in 2011, only 10.2 million tourists visited Egypt, down 32% from the record year of 2010.
 
Journeys International’s Egypt bookings were down by 25% to 35% from pre-Arab Spring levels but have been inching up, Weber reported. The bulk of the fall-off was for groups; adventurous individual clients continued to travel to the country, he said. Journeys hasn’t made any changes in its itineraries or lowered prices.

At Insight Vacations, bookings and requests for brochures have been up, but not dramatically, said Kazlauskas, in an interview before the latest disturbances. The company also hasn’t altered any of its nine Egypt itineraries.

“International clients are still traveling; it’s the American tourists that dropped off precipitously,” Kazlauskas said. In addition to Americans, Insight sells to travelers in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

Encouraging signs
Destinations and Adventures’ Egypt bookings fell by 80% to 90% after the Arab Spring, Berkeley said. But this year, “we’ve seen a steady stream of travelers trickling back.

“We also had a good spike for December and January holiday bookings, along with encouraging bookings for the first and second quarter of 2013.”

Abercrombie & Kent experienced enough of an increase in demand for Egypt this year to add 14 additional small group departures, in addition to the 34 previously announced. It has also introduced three new programs for 2013.

At the Globus Family of Brands, Egypt business fell off by roughly 50% after the Arab spring, according to Steve Born, vice president of marketing.“We’ve reclaimed a large portion of that, but not all,” he said. “I can’t say we’ve recovered, but it’s been slow and steady.”

Tourists ‘come back happy’
Insight’s Kazlauskas said tourists that have been to Egypt recently “have come back happy.”

“Everyone we’ve sent over the last two years said any pre-trip anxiety was unfounded,” he said. “Service levels are through the roof, and there are no crowds. Prices have also come down a bit although it’s not a fire sale.”

At Destinations and Adventures, Berkeley said in fact there were “some incredible deals,” as the drop in demand led to lower prices. The last year or so has actually been a good time to go to Egypt, he added.

“Everyone who went said they should never have worried,” Berkeley said. “The Egyptians met them with open arms, there was no one at the sites and they were upgraded at all properties.”

Committed to Egypt
Tour operators are, in general, taking the long view of travel to Egypt.

“We’re committed to the region and we haven’t backed off that,” said Globus’ Born. “We experienced growth before the Arab Spring. Now it’s a matter of making sure the market is ready.”

Of the current troubles, Destination’s Berkeley said that, “like anything in Egypt, the situation is complicated.

Egypt may take awhile to transition to democracy but “the Egyptians are a measured people,” Berkeley said. “In the end, that will trump the interim excitement.”

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