The romantic and mysterious pull of Egypt is scheduled for a long-awaited update later this year, as the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), the largest collection in the world of a single civilization’s artifacts, opens to the public near the pyramids of Giza.
The vast 5.2-million-square-foot museum will house more than 100,000 objects, including 30,000 that have never been exhibited before. Highlighted will be the entire 5,000-piece funerary collection of King Tutankhamun, including his sandals, chariot, and cheetah-skin shield – the first time in history that the full collection will be on display.
While no date has been set for the grand opening, it is nearing completion and insider tours for several media outlets are contributing to a growing excitement in the travel industry. Many believe that the GEM’s singular and unique collection, as well as its close proximity to the pyramids, will both generate first-time tourists, as well as encourage return visitors.
“What I have been reading about [GEM], and seeing it myself briefly when we drove by it this past December, it looks amazing,” said Katie DeFilipps, CTC, with ProTravel International in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I’m certain it’s going to stimulate interest.”
The GEM is located at the edge of the first desert plateau between the Pyramids at Giza and the city of Cairo. Martha Hahn, owner/manager, Enjoy Travel, in Sun City, Florida, raved about the design and how it fits in perfectly with the nearby Giza pyramids.
“I’m so excited that it is so close to the pyramids,” said Hahn. “I’ve seen it under construction. It’s huge and very modern looking, and it’s easy to see how they can put a lot more on display than they could in the current location downtown in Tahrir Square.”
Hahn sees clients possibly tagging on a visit to Cairo when visiting other popular regional destinations, like Israel and Jordan. “I can see them carving out time to go back now. It will be so much of an easier experience than the cramped location at Tahrir Square.”
“Egypt is really investing in getting more tourism to return, since the Arab Spring,” said DeFilipps at ProTravel. “And the Egyptians are such nice people and deliver such remarkable service. They work very hard to make you feel welcome and promote tourism to their country. I didn’t think I would go back, but now I’m reconsidering it, especially if I can match it with visiting another country in the region.”
“Much of the tourism infrastructure [around the pyramids] has been moved underground, so the view as you approach has been restored to the pyramids in the desert,” said Rami Girgis, director of private jet & special interest travel, Abercrombie & Kent, noting the importance of where the museum is placed and how it has been fit into the landscape for maximum dramatic effect.
Abercrombie & Kent is featuring the GEM on a special December 2020 holiday itinerary of “Egypt & the Nile.” In 2021, it will replace the historic Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square on all of A&K’s small group journeys: “Egypt & the Nile,” “Signature Egypt & the Nile,” “Petra to the Pyramids,” and “Family Egypt & the Nile.” Since GEM will be a much larger complex, guests will spend a full day there instead of the current half-day at the existing Egyptian Museum.
The new museum and other developments in Egypt will be featured at a meeting with Abercrombie & Kent’s 100 Club, their top travel agent partners, on Mar. 31, an A&K spokeswoman said.
The GEM’s opening originally was planned to take place in 2018, but was postponed to sometime in the last quarter of 2020 due to construction and other delays. As soon as the new museum is officially open, A&K plans to feature it on their website and in social media, and it will be highlighted in their 2021 brochures to be sent to travel agents this fall.
Egypt is gathering travel media attention
Travel advisor clients, no doubt, are hearing more and more about the GEM through mainstream media outlets. In a Jan. 13 story, BBC Travel chose Egypt as the best place to visit this year, in part due to the expected opening of the GEM; while CNN and the New York Times also are ranking Egypt high on their 2020 travel lists.
According to the BBC article, GEM’s opening “has locals excited to experience more of their own history and share the treasures of the ancient Egyptian civilization with new visitors.”
“The Grand Egyptian Museum, for us, is much more than a building that houses artifacts,” said Girgis, originally from Egypt, and who recently organized a behind-the-scenes VIP tour of the GEM and its conservation labs. The new museum’s gardens have also been designed to highlight the flora of ancient Egypt, he noted.
“It’s a new window to showcase our national treasures in a proper and fitting setting. It’s a source of national pride. We grew up visiting the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, looking at objects in its dark, non-air-conditioned halls amongst crowds of Egyptians and tourists alike,” he said.
“While the building is historic in its own right, it date backs to 1902 and was not designed to handle large number of visitors. Many archeological finds that yielded thousands of artifacts were made long after the museum was built. The new museum will have ample space with a state-of-the-art lighting system and air conditioning to protect the artifacts.”
Meanwhile, an article by the English-speaking Daily News Egypt said, “The mega museum is considered one of Egypt’s most instrumental players in luring tourism back and reviving the country’s main source of income.”
A&K believes the momentum has been building for a few years now. “Last year, we added 30 additional departures of our “Egypt & the Nile” luxury small group journey to meet the demand,” a spokeswoman said. The operator has more than 50 guaranteed departures in 2020.
The New York Times Travel section ranked Egypt #17 on its list of “52 Places to Go in 2020.” The article stated that “the Egyptians are building like the pharaohs to finish the massive and much-anticipated Grand Egyptian Museum in time for its scheduled gala opening later this year.
Bloomberg noted how GEM is just one of “several improvements that will help the Egyptian government continue the upward trend of post-revolution tourism, which grossed an all-time-high of $12.5 billion in the year ending in June 2019.” The article discussed “renovated historic Jewish synagogues, such as the 116-year-old Sha’ar Hashamayim and a sumptuous St. Regis by Michael Graves Architecture & Design.”
Hahn said that all of the improvements are welcome, as she and other agents have experienced the declining interest in visiting Egypt, following the 2011 Revolution/Arab Spring protests and government crackdown.
“I have clients that really want to go to Egypt, but they’re still concerned about whether it’s safe or not,” Hahn said.
In addition to the museum, Egypt is investing in other infrastructure to make tourism more pleasant and assist tour operators in moving their clients more efficiently around the city. For example, at the beginning of January, the government opened the Sphinx International Airport.
Located west of Cairo, close to the Giza Pyramids, the airport, which complements the much larger Cairo International Airport, features separate arrival and departure halls capable of handling about 300 passengers per hour.