Egypt Slashes Fares, Waives Fees to Spur Tourism

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NEW YORK -- The Egyptian government cut by 50% domestic fares on the national carrier and waived visa and other tourism-related fees in an effort to lure back travelers. Egypt's $3.2-billion-a-year tourism industry is at a near standstill following an Islamic militant groups' terrorist attack in Luxor on Nov. 17, which left 58 tourists dead.

The Egyptian Tourist Authority (ETA) here said that, effective Dec. 1 for travel through March 1, travelers will pay half-fares on Egyptair's domestic flights and will not be charged a $15 per person visa fee to enter the country. Additionally, various fees on services at airports and seaports have been canceled, also until March 1. These include landing and navigational aid fees and port charges, a spokeswoman for the ETA said.

However, these reductions on the cost of traveling to and within Egypt are the tip of the iceberg, said tour operators who are in negotiations with U.S. and Egyptian suppliers to package substantially discounted tours.

Elie Sidawi, president of Hackensack, N.J.-based Sunny Land Tours, which specializes in Egypt, said he is working with airlines, Nile cruise operators and hotel companies to offer deeply discounted programs designed to "revive and regenerate" tourism interest in the North African nation. Sidawi, who noted that his firm has lost 80% of its lucrative high-season revenue this year, said he was optimistic that the combination of lower prices and tighter security would bring tourists back. "Security was never lacking, but now it is wide-reaching," he said, citing the following recent initiatives:

  • The posting of military personnel at all tourism sites.
  • Private security forces hired by Nile River operators.
  • "Stiff enforcement" of identification policies at hotels in Cairo and other large cities.
  • "This is not to say that nothing could happen, but people will feel more assured. The message has been delivered," Sidawi said. He added that Sunny Land has not yet altered its pricing, since "we aren't taking many reservations now."

    Eunice Roy, manager of New York-based Misr Travel, said the trade can expect discounted promotional packages to be unveiled after Jan. 1. She said that Misr, which is 51% owned by the Egyptian government, has lost two-thirds of its bookings for the high season and does not expect to recoup the revenue. "The big groups all have canceled -- the museum groups, for instance, where we had 50 or 60 people booked. Museums and other organizations all are terrified of being sued [as a sponsor of a trip] if something happens." For now, she noted, clients who book their transatlantic flight with Egyptair already receive 50% off any domestic segments, but she said that any appropriate savings would be passed along to Misr's customers.

    Following the attack, the U.S. State Department recommended that U.S. citizens not travel to Upper Egypt. The department said the recommendation is valid until at least Feb. 17. Meanwhile, the organization called the Islamic Group, which took responsibility for the attack, released a statement to news organizations on Dec. 8 saying it no longer planned to target tourists as a way to weaken the Egyptian government.

    ***

    A group of U.S. travel agents visiting Egypt on a fam trip with the operator Gate 1 were in the country at the time of the terrorist attack in which 58 tourists were murdered at a Luxor temple. Viewers of the ABC network television news program "Nightline" earlier this month saw footage of the group, which was filmed in Cairo a few days after the attack.

    Seen dancing and singing with Egyptian citizens, an unidentified agent told the television interviewer that no destination was guaranteed to be safe, citing terrorist attacks in New York and Oklahoma City.

    Later, Glenside, Pa.-based Gate 1 issued a statement detailing the "fam trip evaluation" reports from the agent group. According to the operator, the group felt "secure and satisfied" with the trip, with one participant calling it "one of the most memorable tours I have ever taken. The Egyptian experience is unique."

    Another agent was quoted as saying "The Egyptians were friendly, warm and humorous."

    Sixty-five agents remained on the fam tour following the Luxor rampage, and five opted to return immediately to the U.S.

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