Egypt is hot again—discover selling strategies to tap into the pent-up demand for this world-class destination.
It’s rare that such a perfect storm appears in the travel industry: a prime bucket-list product, low on the travel radar for years, makes a comeback and is available at a very affordable price. But that is exactly what is happening now in Egypt.
Many exotic destinations require explanation to catch travelers’ imagination, but for Egypt, the groundwork for sales has been laid in a way that exists for few other places on earth. Schoolchildren learn about the rich and sophisticated culture that flourished when Europe was still in the Stone Age, and we all know the Sphinx, the Great Pyramids and the treasures of Tutankhamun’s tomb. These stories are woven into our travel dreams, and the return of stability in Egypt provides a golden opportunity to tap the pent-up demand for the Land of the Pharaohs.
Less than a decade ago, there was a saying that you could cross the Nile by jumping from ship to ship, there was so much traffic. In 2010, tourism reached 14.7 million visitors—but the political climate erupted in turmoil and tourism basically came to a halt. Now, as the country experiences a renewed sense of stability, visitors are coming back very quickly, even faster than anticipated.
By 2017 it became clear that Egyptian tourism was clearly on the rise, with more than 8 million travelers reported. Cruise lines announced as much as 500 percent increases in bookings, and some major river cruise operators placed ships on the Nile for the first time. 2018 saw the trend grow even stronger: Egypt made the number-two spot on Virtuoso’s Hot 10 list, with 264 percent growth in year-over-year bookings among U.S. travelers, and the 2019 Virtuoso Luxe Report places Egypt fifth among the top emerging destinations worldwide.
In May 2018, Cairo reported the best quarter in eight years for its hotel industry, and the country is seeing newly refurbished properties and robust hotel construction plans, from Hilton’s nine new hotel projects to the renovated Four Seasons Hotel Cairo.
Airlift has also come back at light speed: Tewfik Ghattas, board member of SGI (parent company of tour operator Central Holidays), notes that 2019 will see service available on all major carriers to Egypt from all the main cities in the U.S., and EgyptAir now has a daily nonstop flight to Cairo from JFK.
In short, travel advisors and suppliers agree that this is the time to seize the moment and capitalize on Egypt’s romantic appeal.
Exciting and Affordable
Even with the recent dramatic increase in tourism, the crowds at major Egyptian sites are not back to their pre-2011 numbers, a substantial plus for today’s visitors. What’s more, there is currently impressive value for the dollar that travelers benefit from. At the end of 2016, Egypt’s central bank floated the Egyptian pound to market rates in an attempt to stabilize the economy, devaluing it in the short term by more than 50 percent. The result is extremely low pricing across the board.
Recently returned agents and their clients comment enthusiastically about affordability in Egypt, and urge that this is the time to take advantage of it. Beverly Marshall-Luney, owner of Platinum Tours International in Winter Park, Florida, took a group on a 14-day program that included a Nile cruise and a visit to a beach resort at El Gouna (on Egypt’s Red Sea) this spring. “My clients were delighted with the power of the dollar there,” she says. “It was great value.”
But Ghattas warns that prices will be going up for air and accommodations in the near future, and with the fast increase in tourism, availability is already showing signs of getting tight. “There is a big difference between 2018 and 2019 in confirming space,” he explains.
Even for travelers who have visited Egypt in the past, there are compelling reasons to return now, with new discoveries such as the 4,400-year-old tomb of the priestess Hetpet and the 3,500-year-old tomb of a royal goldsmith. In addition, the new billion-dollar Grand Egyptian Museum next to the pyramids of Giza has scheduled its grand opening for 2020, rehousing iconic pieces including the 83-ton, 30-foot-tall granite statue of Ramses II, the complete collection of Tutankhamun’s tomb and thousands of other treasures, many restored by one of the biggest conservation centers in the world.
With all these incentives, even agents who have never before sold Egypt are putting together groups, scheduling fam trips and alleviating client concerns about security.
Marshall-Luney, whose company is focused on cultural immersion, says that in her group, the CEO of a national restaurant chain had been particularly apprehensive. She paid for enhanced security, with armed guards on the buses and police escorts in Cairo. “It was reassuring, but I think it went beyond what was needed,” she says. “People thought we were rock stars. There was never a time I was concerned about safety. It was a very successful trip, and a perfect fit for us—our clients come back forever changed, not just claiming bragging rights.”
Corrinne Mutarelli, owner of Travel World Showcase in the Bronx, New York, also felt secure when visiting Egypt in November 2018. She is selling the destination enthusiastically after visiting on a fam trip that included a land component and a cruise.
“We had escorts the whole time, including on the cruise, and I was completely comfortable,” says Mutarelli. “Cairo was magnificent, and they were very protective of U.S. citizens.”
Agents see travelers responding well to social media images from their visits, and prospective guests also are reassured by consumer word of mouth. For agents like Marshall-Luney, who schedules three major trips a year with her clients titled “Where in the World is Beverly,” this endorsement from customers is very powerful, and she is now recreating her 2018 trip for another group. “My clients talk to each other, and the Egyptian trip was very successful,” she explains. “The Sphinx was mesmerizing, and the group went to a spice market and stayed for half the day. Egypt has something for every taste.”
Although Egypt is a dream destination for many travelers and offers a huge range of diverse appeals, agents must still make sure to carefully qualify interested clients.
“Qualifying is the most important thing the agent does,” Mutarelli says. “For Egypt, the potential customer is likely to be a seasoned traveler, but that’s no longer an age demographic. Many 30-year-olds have traveled widely.”
Mutarelli sees the Egyptian traveler as someone who will appreciate the country’s vast history, along with people who are looking to add a very big check to the bucket list. “I also educate clients carefully,” she says. “Not only about the history and sights they will see, but also the style of service, and I make sure they are aware of the customs of dress and behavior.”
For Mutarelli, her personal Egypt experience has become a key selling strategy. Less than a month after returning from her own trip, she has bookings from eight different clients. She stresses the advantage of actually visiting the country, which she had never seen before in 35 years of travel expertise. “What I know, I can sell,” she states.
Other agents are getting into Egypt through their clients: Lori Overton, owner of New York-based Overton Travel, took a group on a domestic bus tour and polled them on where they would like to travel. “Egypt kept coming up,” she says, “so I emailed my clients and handed out flyers.” Through her efforts and word of mouth among clients, she ended up with 33 people booking a December 2018 trip, including a multigenerational group, mothers and daughters, and couples.
Overton describes the weeklong itinerary—which included a Nile cruise and time in Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens—as a great value, and she is now arranging a similar trip for next year. She says safety had been her clients’ main concern prior to the trip, but with the security furnished on the bus and unobtrusively throughout the trip, they were completely comfortable on site.
When it comes to trip planning, Mutarelli also likes the combination of cruise and land tour. “Relaxing on a cruise is perfect after the more tiring land-based exploration,” she explains. “On land, you are up so early in the morning to get to the site and avoid the heat and the crowds.”
Mutarelli advises scheduling a minimum of 10 days for journeys that include a Nile cruise. “And if people have the time, longer itineraries combining Egypt with Israel or Jordan are a perfect opportunity,” she adds.
Regardless of the length of the trip, though, Mutarelli is certain of one thing: “If you prepare your clients correctly, you can make their dreams come true in Egypt.”