Pyramid scheme: Resilient Egypt casts wider tourist net

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Egypts lucrative tourism industry has taken several hits from terrorist attacks in the past two years, but Egyptian officials and tour operators that bank on the destination say tourism is becoming more resilient.

The latest terrorist strike, in the Sinai seaside city of Dahab in April, for example, did little to derail the sectors momentum.

This wasnt the case a decade ago, when gunmen killed more than 60 tourists at an ancient temple at Luxor in November 1997. It took nearly four years for tourism, and Egypts economy, to recover.

This dramatic change in attitude among tourists will help Egypt welcome 9.6 million visitors this year, about 1 million more than in 2005, according to the Egyptian Tourist Authority. Last years arrivals represented a 6% increase over 2004.

Tourists ... are more resilient, as people realize [terrorist attacks] are not limited to the Middle East and can happen anywhere, said Omayma El Husseini, assistant director of the ETA in New York.

Tourism is still big business, producing more than $6 billion in annual revenue. By some estimates, tourism employs 10% of Egypts workers and accounts for 7% of gross national product.

To that end, Egypt this month launched the U.S. component of a $40 million global campaign that features a new logo and slogan: Nothing Compares to Egypt.

Our message is that Egypt has a diversity that no other country offers, said El Husseini. Yes, of course, Egypt is popular for tourists who seek culture and history, but the new U.S. campaign will also emphasize our great scuba diving, our golf courses, our beaches and resorts and our entertainment.

According to El Husseini, Egypt experienced a 16% increase in visitors last month compared with May 2005. For the first five months of this year, tourism was up 21%, compared with the same period in 2005.

Tour operators concur with those numbers, saying travel to Egypt is robust. They say that by promoting more than just archeological sights, the new campaign will help attract customers who might not have otherwise considered a trip to Egypt.

Yalla Tours in Portland, Ore., anticipates that business to Egypt will be up 25% this year, with more than 1,500 such bookings.

To deal with the increase, Yalla last month opened an office in Cairo.

We just had a fam trip to Egypt in May and had to turn away 70 agents, said Yalla President Ronen Paldi. Twenty-three agents attended the fam trip.

Egypts ability to bounce back after the recent terror attacks has as much to do with the traveling publics decision not to give in to terrorism as with Egypts proactive efforts to assuage travelers fears, Paldi said.

Americans have made a conscious decision not to surrender to terrorism when deciding whether or not to take a trip, Paldi said. But destinations must do their part.

For example, every tour bus in Egypt must have an armed escort, Paldi noted, and ground operators are obliged to register with the tourism police. In addition, most of the countrys top hotels have security agents stationed on hotel floors.

Paldi said one aspect of Yalla that sets it apart in Egypt is its fleet of five private vans in Cairo for custom, guided city tours.

Yallas most popular Egypt tour is the 11-night Glory of Egypt, which includes four nights in Cairo, two in Sharm al-Sheikh, one in St. Catherine and a four-night Nile River cruise. Prices start at $2,195 per person, double, all-inclusive, from May 1 to Sept. 30. 

General Tours, Keene, N.H., is seeing a 30% jump in traffic to Egypt this year, said President Bob Drumm, noting the firm reintroduced several custom tours to Egypt.

Egypt has a lot to offer, and most of us have only scratched the surface, said Drumm. As demand grows, we see a lot of opportunity to develop product in Egypt.

General Tours offers an eight-night River of the Pharaohs tour, with three nights at the Ramses Hilton; one at the Sheraton Heliopolis, Cairo; and four on the Nile, aboard a deluxe ship in an outside cabin. Air-inclusive rates start at $2,899 per person, double.

Business to Egypt is up by as much as 34% at Oak Brook, Ill.-based Abercrombie & Kent, which describes itself as the largest luxury tour operator to the country.

A spokeswoman said A&K is investing considerable dollars to refurbish its largest Nile cruise ship -- the decade-old, 80-passenger Sun Boat IV -- giving it teak and marble floors and floor-to-ceiling windows in all cabins on the three upper decks.

A&Ks newest programs include the 11-night The Desert Road: Libya & Egypt and insider access experience add-ons in Cairo, Alexandria and the White Desert.

To contact reporter Jorge Sidron, send e-mail to [email protected].

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