After years of up-and-down bookings to Egypt since the
destination fell out of favor with travelers in the aftermath of the January
2011 uprisings, operators are reporting a sudden uptick in bookings this year,
robust enough to generate fresh investment and a more bullish travel outlook
for the country.
"We have nearly tripled our numbers over 2016,"
said Robert Drumm, president of small-group operator Alexander + Roberts, which
added the newly launched 44-passenger Nile River vessel, the Oberoi Philae, to
its roster in February to meet growing demand for Egypt.
"Street demonstrations and violence are over. While
terrorist events still occur, they seem to be fairly focused on discrete
targets. As horrifying as they are, bookings remain on a steady pace despite
these events," said Drumm, adding that "as terror events happen in
non-Middle Eastern places elsewhere, perhaps Egypt is becoming a little more
like every place else in some eyes."
Drumm also noted that travelers booking Egypt include baby
boomers who don't want to wait to see such a blockbuster destination, as well
as family travelers.
In an interesting twist of fate for Egypt, curiosity driven
by current events may be working to spur rather than suppress bookings,
according to Leigh Barnes, North American director for Intrepid Travel.
"The Middle East has been one of the most politicized
regions of 2017," he said. "The proposed travel ban created an entire
conversation around traveling in this region, which actually sparked interest
from the travel community. Travel is now being used to create a more meaningful
and accurate understanding around the realities of life in the Middle East."
Intrepid has increased its Egypt departures by 140%, to 48,
for 2017, compared with the 20 it offered in 2016, and the company reported a
70% bump in bookings for travel to its Middle East destinations overall this
year over last.
Tourico Holidays, a Florida-based global travel distribution
company, has also seen a surge in demand for Egypt. The company reported that
reservations for destinations throughout the Middle East are up by 112% year
over year, with Egypt alone having experienced a 300% jump in reservations
compared with last year.
The rebound has been substantial enough that Viking River
Cruises has acquired a vessel in Egypt that it has stripped down to the steel
and will be relaunching in March as the all-suite, 48-passenger Viking Ra,
complete with 291-square-foot staterooms, full-size balconies, a pool, two
Jacuzzis, a spa, a restaurant and a bar and lounge area.
Viking has offered itineraries in Egypt for years, but the
Viking Ra marks the first time Viking will own and operate its own ship on the
"Though we did see a softening in demand following the
unrest, the demand for Egypt among our guests has returned," said Richard
Marnell, senior vice president of marketing for Viking. "And as the entire
Egyptian tourism industry continues to rebound, there is a unique opportunity
for visitors to experience the country's treasures without significant crowds."
He noted that Viking is completely sold out of its existing
charter product for Egypt for the 2017 season, and since announcing the launch
of Viking Ra, the company is already 60% sold out for the 2018 season.
Nevertheless, while the recent resurgence in bookings is
promising, Egypt appears to still be far from the tourism heyday it was
experiencing prior to the political upheaval of 2011.
"By historical standards, the numbers are modest, but
the growth is dramatic nonetheless," said Drumm. "I would say
[bookings] are about one-third of what they were in those halcyon days."