Bringing Americans Back to Egypt—Luxor Conference

The Luxor Temple seems almost deserted with not many visitors attending.
The Luxor Temple seems almost deserted.

Tour operators and journalists met this February at the Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor for the Egypt Visit & Luxor Conference. On the agenda? How to bring back tourists. Safety, the unique experience of seeing the Egyptian pyramids and Luxor’s temples up-close, and the new Grand Egyptian Museum were the focus during the travel conference.

In terms of overall tourism, His Excellency Hisham Zaazou, minister of tourism, stated that, “The Egyptian government and businesses want to get balance and are gambling on the U.S. market to recover to the high of 14.7 million visitors in 2010 from 9.8 million in 2014.” The minister also spoke of the economic impact. “Tourism’s numbers are down, from 48 percent hotel occupancy in 2010 in Luxor to 11 percent in 2014. Putting a human face on the numbers, one out of six Egyptians are employed in the tourism sector, and the effects are visible—people need to feed their family.” Elhamy Elzayat, chairman and CEO of Emeco Travel, Egypt, and president of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, reinforced this urgency. “There are 283 cruise boats on the Nile, 45 are running, families are suffering,” adding that, “hotel rates will be held and adjusted after the tourists return.” Joshua Smith, product manager for Travcoa, suggested additional funds can be raised by “doubling the visa fee, from $25 to $50.”

Signs of the low number of tourists are all around Luxor—idle Nile cruise ships moored two across, empty parking lots at tourist sites, and only a few tour coaches of French, Japanese and Chinese tourists on the roads. That said, there is a sign of recovery—tour bookings are picking up. Robert Drumm, president of Alexander+Roberts says, “I had zero bookings in 2014 and have over 100 in 2015.”

Tour operators were encouraged to ask how the Egyptians can help, which brought up the bureaucratic muddle between the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Transportation and Civil Aviation, and government-owned Egyptair. This keeps tour operators from getting timely responses to calls and e-mails. That said, all parties are looking forward to greater cooperation and expedited communications. For example, Mohamed A. Farahat, business research & development general manager for Egyptair, is offering special fare incentives of 30 percent and up during the high periods, seven flights per week for Christmas and Easter, with five flights per week from JFK to CAI at other times.

And the new museum will also be a great reason to travel to Egypt. Dr. Tarek Sayed Tawfik, general director of the Grand Egyptian Museum, describes the new museum on the Giza plateau as having over 4,500 objects from Tutankhamun’s tomb, “objects never seen before, including gold masks and jewelry.” The museum will also feature a children’s Egyptian Adventure. An opening date has not been set.

Another important topic that was covered during the conference was safety. In fact, the perception of safety in post-revolutionary Egypt is a big hurdle in selling Egypt. Yet, during my visit, tour operators and journalists toured a security monitoring center in Luxor. Elzayat emphasized that the network “covers the major tourist sites in Egypt and are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Emma Cottis, marketing manager for Goway Travel, who stayed in Egypt after the conference, provided some insight into what it’s like to travel through the destination right now: “I experienced wonderful people, met new friends, and tasted delicious foods.” In other words, Egypt is still as magical as it’s ever been.

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