Nadine Godwin is visiting Egypt and Jordan with a delegation of travel professionals and journalists. Her second dispatch follows. Click to read Nadine's first, third and fourth dispatches.
In a jam-packed day two of the U.S. travel delegation’s look at tourism on the ground in Egypt and Jordan, we stumbled onto a small demonstration in front of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. A number of tourism students had erected signs touting their country’s attractions and urging tourists to return to a safe Egypt.
One student said the purpose was "to advance tourism." Our guides explained that the students set up their display and called local and international press in hopes of coverage. In other words, they had staged a public relations event. (Click here to view a slideshow from Nadine's trip to Egypt and Jordan.)
The fact that we found them was a coincidence, but they loved the attention we gave them, and one concluded her short conversation with me by saying, "Welcome to Egypt."
Later, we met at the U.S. embassy with Margaret Scobey, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt. She volunteered that Egyptians are so pleased with the results of their demonstrations against the government that they are now demonstrating about everything, "every little nonpolitical thing." She said some have demonstrated in an effort to get rid of bosses they don’t like.
Responding to trade concerns about a State Department travel warning for Egypt, Scobey said that by the end of the month, the State Department will probably "update its guidance" for travelers.
Roberto Powers, U.S. consul general, didn’t make guarantees either, but said he expected the travel warning would be lifted by the end of the month. "We believe that circumstances are such that tourists can come back," he said.
Scobey said the State Department always aims to be "brutally honest" about any risks and is cautious "especially where major change has occurred … and Egypt is still in the midst of a revolution."
"Organized tour groups do a pretty good job of taking care of people," she said, but the State Department is also trying to give advice to individual travelers who sometimes do unwise things and get into trouble.
At dinner, our group was joined by Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s minister of antiquities, and Jawad Nabulsi, one of the young and wired leaders of the recent Egyptian revolution that unseated President Mubarak. Both have plans meant to brighten the tourism picture.
Hawass said that next week he will announce the opening of New Kingdom tombs in Saqqara, the debut of the Crocodile Museum in Kom Ombo and details of new archaeological discoveries in the Luxor area. He said the discoveries occurred before the revolution but had not yet been announced.
He said it was time "to put Egypt back in the good news."
Hawass also advised that he has no intention of staying on as minister of antiquities after a new president is elected, which is now slated for December.
Nabulsi, who wore an eye patch due to injuries sustained during street demonstrations, said he and his fellow advocates for democracy created a foundation called Nebni.com, a name that means "to build."
The group is planning an event for July 1 to 18 called the Egypt Now Festival, to be highlighted at a website, egyptnowfestival.com, meant to go live Tuesday. It aims to lure visitors with several activities including popular music with Kanye West and Egyptian artists as entertainers.
The project stands to benefit the tourism business, but Nabulsi said the underlying issue is employment, which "is more important than politics."
He said the group on Thursday expects to launch another site, GoEgypt.com, and invite visitors to download films of their travel experiences in Egypt. Nabulsi said his group wants to broaden Egypt’s travel market.