SEATTLE -- Through history, a caravanserai has been a stopping
place for caravans crossing the desert, a place for refreshment as
well as meeting new people and exchanging information.
Caravan-Serai Tours here is a creator of travel programs to the
regions the staff knows best: the Middle East and North Africa, a
band stretching from Morocco and Tunisia to Turkey, Egypt, Jordan,
Syria, Lebanon, Dubai, Oman, Yemen and Iran. President Rita
Zawaideh and her partners are either from the Middle East or have
spent considerable amounts of time in the region.
She said Caravan-Serai offers products for FIT clients and
groups that expand beyond the most visited sites and introduce
visitors to local people. Zawaideh herself is Jordanian. She lived
for eight years in Syria with her husband before returning to the
U.S. in 1984, when she became a travel agent who found her own
niche selling tickets and homeland tours to Middle Easterners she
met at ethnic nightclubs.
She eventually founded her own agency to market the Middle East
to Westerners. This is not always an easy part of the world to
sell, Zawaideh admits. The main obstacle is trying to instill
confidence about a region viewed mostly from the political
upheavals reported by the media. "Seasoned travelers are very
unlikely to let a destination's negative news deter them from
visiting the area," she said, "but nonseasoned travelers often
cancel bookings at the first sign of unrest."
Caravan-Serai focuses on participating in trade shows and
seminars to educate agency staffs on selling the region's different
countries. Zawaideh speaks to prospective travel groups, lecturing
on all aspects of life in the region in a 45-minute presentation,
followed by a half-hour question-and-answer period.
Key to Caravan-Serai's education efforts is a series of agent
fam trips that were inspired by Outbound Traveler magazine. The
trips are designed to make the travel industry aware of the loss of
historic cultural sites throughout the world and help raise money
for preserving endangered cultural landmarks.
Itineraries are designed around the World Monuments Watch
program, founded by American Express, which has identified 100
sites most at risk. The company is contributing $5 million over a
five-year period for the restoration of those sites and is
encouraging others in the travel industry to join in the
To qualify for fam trip participation, travel agents are
required to explain an interest in a particular area and, on
returning home, to commit to educating staff and clients about
endangered site(s). Participating agents can receive continuing
education credits through the Institute of Certified Travel Agents
program. Fam tours for 1999 are being planned.
This winter, trips to Oman and Lebanon are scheduled. All
participants receive a certificate from World Monuments Watch. The
organization also subsidizes $100 of the tour cost. Leaving Nov. 5,
the World Monument Fam to Egypt will visit Cairo, Marsa Matrouh on
the Mediterranean coast, the Oasis of Siwa, Luxor and Aswan. Trips
dates are Nov. 8 to 17 for the fam tour to Syria, visiting Damascus
and Aleppo as well as the Krak des Chevaliers, Ebla, Bosra,
Palmyra, Hama, Latakia and more; the land-only cost is $1,045.
Scheduled for Nov. 30 is a seven-night fam to Iran, with an
overnight on arrival and departure in Tehran and two full days in
Shiraz (with a full-day tour of Persepolis) and two full days in
Caravan-Serai's regular tour programs include a whole range of
Middle East and North African travel options, featuring both
traditional destinations and those newer to the tourism track. They
include a 14-day journey through Jordan and Syria; an exploration
of the Persian Silk Road for 16 days and a 14-day Desert Castles,
Camels & Crusaders trek in Jordan.
Participants also can discover Morocco for seven or 14 days;
explore Yemen, the Land of Sheba, for 11 or 15 days; travel the
Saharan sands of Tunisia for eight days; visit Lebanon for seven
days or Upper or Lower Egypt for eight days, and catch the solar
eclipse in August 1999 on a 12-day tour of Turkey.
Specifically for 1999, Caravan-Serai Tours will offer a
six-night southern Morocco tour via Land Rover. The land-only price
is $1,000 per person, double occupancy. Features are accommodations
at four-star hotels, with one overnight in a local Berber house;
two meals daily, and the services of an English-speaking guide. The
tour will start in Marrakesh and continue to the Dades Gorge, Draa
Valley, Zagora and Erfoud. Departures are scheduled for March,
April, May and Oct.
Caravan-Serai Tours, Phone: (800) 451-8097 or (206) 545-1735,
Fax: (206) 547-8607, Web: www.caravan-serai.com