Operators are cautiously optimistic that tourism to Egypt can bounce back if the industry pulls together.
By Juliet Dennis, on www.travelweekly.co.uk
The trade is expecting bookings to Egypt to bounce back in the wake of changes in Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice.
But at least one operator has called for a joint effort to aid the destination’s recovery, and many fear prices, particularly in the Red Sea, will stay “rock bottom”.
The country’s fortunes turned this week when the FCO lifted its ban on all but essential travel to Luxor, the main gateway for Nile cruises.
Operators hope the ban to Cairo, Suez and Alexandria will be lifted soon.
Latest statistics suggest the trade’s confidence is well founded. Analyst GfK Ascent said 3,000 bookings to Egypt were made last week, with average selling prices down £100 on last year.
Managing director Sarah Smalley said: “The good news is people are still booking Egypt.”
There have been continual updates saying that Sharm el-Sheikh is safe to visit. Smalley said: “People were obviously reassured by what was said about Sharm.”
Summer 2011 bookings to Egypt for the week to February 12 were nonetheless 6,000 down against the same week last year.
The FCO’s change in advice follows president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation and a drop-off in political unrest.
As a result, Thomas Cook, Thomson and First Choice announced that flights to Luxor would resume on February 23.
Within hours of the ban being lifted, independent operators used Twitter, Facebook and email to announce the resumption of programmes.
Discover Egypt director Philip Breckner said the reaction from agents and clients had been one of delight.
“Nile cruising is a holiday people dream about and they have been waiting anxiously,” he said.
The operator is resuming weekly charter flights to Luxor from Gatwick and Manchester on February 28.
Breckner, who remembers a strong bounce back after the Luxor massacre in 1997 and the September 11 attacks, said: “Egypt is somewhere people set their minds on going to.”
Time to pull together
Similarly, Tara Bradberry, marketing manager for Longwood Holidays, said: “We have lots of people interested in going to Luxor and Cairo.”
Longwood is resuming its Luxor programme on Monday.
However, Cosmos product and commercial director Phil Boggon warned the recovery could be tough and would require suppliers, travel agents and the media to pull together to encourage tourists to return.
“It’s going to be a challenge to get demand back immediately but it will come back because of the unique product,” he added.
“We will need the support of the whole trade to change the customer’s perception. Our priority now is to push sales and we are now looking at what we can do
to get the message out.”
Cosmos is restarting flights to Luxor from Gatwick and Manchester on March 7.
Prices will come under pressure but could be maintained for Luxor because of its product, Boggon said.
With reference to the Red Sea, he said: “We are not at the stage where we think we will have to dump capacity or prices.”
But Bradberry warned Red Sea prices were already suffering. “Prices were on the floor anyway; I don’t know how much lower they can go,” she said.
Online agency Directline Holidays has already started to see sales returning to the destination, which was back in the agency’s top five sellers by Sunday.
Chief executive Maria Whiteman said: “We saw a fair few bookings coming in online on Sunday and we think it will bounce back.”
- The FCO is no longer advising against all but essential travel to Luxor. As Travel Weekly went to press, a travel ban remained in place for Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. No travel ban was imposed on Red Sea resorts.
- UK arrivals have increased steadily to Egypt over the past decade. They reached 1.4 million last year, up from 1.3 million in 2009, 838,000 in 2005 and 378,000 in 2000.
- The political unrest in Egypt and Tunisia has cost Thomas Cook £20 million and Tui Travel £30 million.
Sweden, who on January 30 advised its citizens against all non-necessary travel to Egypt, said Monday it was safe to visit Red Sea resorts.
But Swedish tour operators Apollo and Ving said Tuesday that despite the foreign ministry’s new travel recommendations, all of their winter trips to Egypt would remained cancelled.
Also the Danish foreign ministry on Tuesday eased its recommendations for travel to Egypt, telling its citizens it was safe to visit the tourist resorts along the Red Sea.
The ministry however maintained its advice to avoid all non-essential travel to the rest Egypt, it said on its website.
Danish tour operators Atlantis Rejser and Apollo, which in late January cancelled all their trips to Egypt in coming months, said Tuesday they had decided to start sending tourists to Egypt in March and April respectively.
Competitor Star Tour, which sends between 15,000 and 16,000 Danes to Egypt annually, said it did not plan to reverse its decision to cancel all trips to Egypt until the beginning of May, deeming the situation in the country had not yet returned to normal.
Tourists fled Egypt amid recommendations to avoid the country last month during mass civilian protests which succeeded in driving out President Hosni Mubarak last Friday.
Source: AFP/The Swedish Wire
Many winter sun seekers with holidays booked in Red Sea resorts will have been concerned to see recent news images of political and social unrest in Egypt, fearing that, for reasons of personal safety, their trip might have to be cancelled.
Perhaps I can allay some of those concerns. I returned home from a week in Sharm el Sheikh just before Hosni Mubarak stepped down from his position as President of Egypt but saw no evidence of unrest. In fact, the area was very pleasant to visit. Despite the country’s widely reported tension, the staff in hotels, restaurants and bars maintained a high level of professionalism. I would never wantonly take risks while travelling and at no point during my stay in Sharm el Sheikh did I feel the need to cut short my trip. In fact, I quite fancied the idea of prolonging my stay to take advantage of the resort’s relative quietude, in order to enjoy more of the Red Sea’s excellent scuba diving.
It was interesting to be in Egypt during a momentous period of the country’s modern history and talking to Egyptians about the root causes of their country’s troubles was fascinating. Hearing first-hand reports of what it was like to pass through improvised checkpoints in Cairo made me realise that much more was taking place, beyond just the high-profile protests on Tahrir Square. In a way, I felt a bit like someone who was in Dallas, Texas, on 22 November 1963 but nowhere near Dealey Plaza, where JFK was assassinated; I sensed that these were historic times but that I was far removed from the real action.
Friends and family members kept sending me messages of concern, asking if I was safe. That in itself was interesting. On the television news I had been told that the internet and mobile phone connectivity had been suspended throughout Egypt, though they continued to function there in Sharm el Sheikh. As my week in Sharm progressed, I could see that the number of holidaymakers was dwindling. More and more poolside sun loungers lay empty and, by the end of the week, restaurants had a surprising number of empty seats.
The foreign ministries of several European countries have advised their citizens against travel to Egypt. Likewise, the US Department of State recommended its citizens not to travel to Egypt “due to ongoing political and social unrest.” The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, meanwhile, was taking a softer stance, observing that the “Red Sea Resorts, including Sharm el Sheikh, remain calm” and that the 8pm to 6am curfew, which was being applied elsewhere in Egypt, did not apply.
I travelled out of Sharm el Sheikh to St Catherine’s Monastery and the Coloured Canyon in the Sinai Desert. Prior to travelling, the tour operator needed to check on the latest security situation, but we could visit the attractions without any hinderance. The only “disturbance” of any note was that banks and ATMs remained closed for a couple of days, on the orders of the Central Bank of Egypt. Ultimately, for me, that just meant less souvenir shopping.
Local hoteliers and resort owners are undoubtedly concerned by cancellations made in the wake of the country’s political crisis. Occupancy rates in some of Sharm el Sheikh’s hotels have dropped below 20 per cent and will fall even further over coming days, when those holidaymakers now present return home.
“I believe very much that the situation is not going to last for long. Here in Sharm we are on a different continent; we’re not in Africa. We are 550km from Cairo and the only connection is one tunnel under the Suez Canal. You could be in a different country. Everybody here is here for the tourism. Tourism is our livelihood; if there is no tourism there is no life,” said Emad F. Aziz, the Chairman of the Savoy Group, which operates Sharm el Sheikh’s Royal Savoy, Savoy and Sierra resorts, as well as the Soho Square entertainment and dining area.
“Red Sea areas are safe and secure,” said Hamada Abou El-Enin, the Chairman and CEO of the Hilton’s Sharm Dreams Resort and Spa. “This is a storm and we have to wait,” he added.
I also spoke with General Ahmed Saleh Al Edkawy, the Assistant Secretary General of the Governorate of South Sinai, who has a key role in the crisis management currently being undertaken by stakeholders in the region’s tourism industry. “The tourism industry may face some disturbances but it will never die. We will get back to where we were. Sharm el Sheikh is a big resort and not a city; the changes will be limited,” said General Al Edkawy.
“My main concern is the labour here,” said General Al Edkawy. “I don’t want to lose them. We must keep them; they have experience and know how to deal with tourists,” acknowledging the role that well-trained staff have in satisfying the service expectations of foreign tourists.
One early estimate suggests that Egypt’s tourism industry has suffered to the tune of $1.1b since disturbances began on January 25. Resorts along the Red Sea account for 40 per cent of that industry. People within the industry will undoubtedly want Sharm el Sheikh to remain attractive as quality sunshine resort. Yet as tour operators and hoteliers seek to win back business, it may be that prospective holidaymakers can pick up some attractive bargains over the coming weeks and months.
The beaches may be emptier than is usual but the sun – hope thousands of people who depend on the tourism industry for their livelihoods – has by no means set on Sharm el Sheikh and Egypt’s Red Sea resorts.
Source: The Travel Editor.com
Egypt’s former boy king, Tutankhamen, returned to Cairo today to seize power from President Mubarak.
“If Jerry Brown can resume being governor of California after a 30-year absence, I can reclaim my throne after 3,350 years,” the pharaoh said.
In a hieroglyphic text message sent to protest leaders, Tut promised to rescue Egypt’s finances by selling off his treasures, which include a gilded bed, mummified internal organs and a condo made of stone-uh.
Tut canceled his long-running world tour after Mubarak’s hold on power began to crumble.
Despite Tut’s age, experts said he was “remarkably well-preserved” and qualified to lead Egypt out of the 20th century and into the 14th century B.C., which would align the nation with several other Arab regimes.