Dispatch, Egypt: Optimism for recovery

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Dispatch, Egypt

Nadine Godwin is visiting Egypt and Jordan with a delegation of travel professionals and journalists. Her first dispatch follows. Click to read Nadine's second, third and fourth dispatches.

It has been way too long since I last visited Cairo — that was in the early 1980s — but today I find myself in the Egyptian capital as one of the press attached to a delegation of U.S. travel professionals on a mission. They aim to help bring tourism back to the area in the wake of a revolution that toppled the president.

The journey is hosted by the Egyptian and Jordanian tourism ministries. Delegation members include the heads of the National Tour Association, the USTOA, ASTA and the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

Dutch tourists at pyramids

The visit will be short, so on day one, I headed immediately to the pyramids at Giza for a look at activity — or lack of it — there.

My experience was little different from that of Travel Weekly’s Michelle Baran, who visited in early March. Camels, horses, tourist carriages and their handlers were mostly idle. A few carried visitors on the pyramid grounds, and those visitors appeared to be mostly Egyptians.

My guide said Giza’s visitor numbers still stand at a few hundred a day as opposed to a typical daily average of 10,000.

I heard little English, and that more often came from vendors who peddled camel rides or souvenirs and postcards. In addition, the majority of seats were empty at the English-language sound-and-light show tonight, an event that is generally sold out.

And yet, there was nothing downbeat — or frightening, either — about a stroll or a ride through the teeming city on this sunny spring day.

Besides, Amr El Ezabi, chairman of the Egyptian Tourist Authority who joined us at dinner in the Mena House, said the "machine of recovery has already started." He predicted tourist arrivals could be back to 90% of 2010 numbers by October or November.

He said that while tourist arrivals were at about 20% of 2010 numbers in February, they were at roughly 38% to 40% in March and, he estimated, those numbers might be up to 60% in April.

However, he noted, that encouraging recovery is mostly among Europeans and they are filling hotel rooms at the beach resorts. But Americans don’t come for the beaches and don’t come back as quickly, which is why we are here.

He said Egyptian marketing and public relations efforts are ongoing and did not stop even while Egyptians were in the streets pushing for President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

In addition, El Ezabi said, "We’ve taken the first steps in packaging a Tahrir Square product" that will focus not merely on the historic events there that helped push Egypt toward democracy but on the area around the square. He said it sits at the heart of the "modern 19th century Cairo," meaning the city that was built up at the time the Suez Canal was built.

Egypt has recovered from hits to its tourism business before and this time, at least, the "problem" results from what most view as good news, not from war or acts of terrorism.

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