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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Arthur Frommer: Egyptian tourism operators are gearing up

BY ARTHUR FROMMER

Although the formal warnings of the U.S. State Department remain in effect, advising you that the situation in Egypt is still too unsettled to make tourism entirely safe, most tour operators to Egypt are gearing up for an imminent restart of their programs. I recently spoke by phone with Elie Sidawi, chairman of Sunny-land Tours (www. sunnylandtours.com), which undoubtedly operates the most extensive list of trips to Egypt. He told me emphatically, and a bit triumphantly, that he will restart his key tours to Cairo and Upper Egypt this month, and is cutting the price in half to assure that every seat on his flights will be full.

Sunnyland's lead program to Egypt is a 10-day trip that flies you to Cairo from New York (on Egyptair); puts you up for two nights in Cairo (visiting all the main sites of that city, from the Museum of Antiquities to the Pyramids and the Sphinx, and to the Khan el Khalili Bazaar); and places you on a rather luxurious, seven-night, all-inclusive cruise of the Nile to Upper Egypt (Aswan, Luxor, Abu Simbel), for which the normal charge is $2,599 per person, including trans-Atlantic airfare.

Instead of that price, Sunnyland will now be charging only $1,299 per person for the very same features, including round-trip airfare between New York and Cairo. Since the value of the airfare alone is almost that high, it's as if Sunnyland is giving you the Cairo stay and the Nile cruise for free.

Sidawi spoke rather movingly about the calls he has received from scores of would-be passengers, all of them speaking about the urge they feel to pay personal tribute to the heroes of Tahrir Square, many of whom have attempted to remain in tents on that square to remind the military of the mass movement that brought about Egypt's revolt. Sunnyland's passengers will be in hotels close to Tahrir Square, and will be able to make repeat visits to it.

To advertise the new programs and their dramatic reduction in price, Sunnyland is maintaining a separate website called Egypt Hot Deals (www.egypthotdeals.com), which sets forth all the details — especially the day-by-day itinerary — of that remarkable $1,299 tour. It is an enticing offer. Because the hotels and other tourist facilities of Egypt currently are almost empty and unused, a company like Sunnyland is able to charge so very little.

I also have spoken by phone with Ronen Paldi, president of Ya'lla Tours (www.yallatours.com), another important operator to Egypt and other countries of the Middle East. Paldi, who announced the very same intention to restart his tours to Egypt almost immediately, has numerous clients ready to go there.

In Britain, the movement of tourism back to Egypt is even more intense, aided by the decision of Britain's Foreign & Commonwealth Office to remove the warning against such tourism of a few weeks ago. In a declaration that made headlines in the British travel press, Britain's equivalent of our State Department has flatly stated: "We no longer advise against all but essential travel to Cairo (all four governorates, including Giza), Alexandria and Suez. There are no restrictions in this travel advice on travel to Egypt."

That withdrawal of Britain's earlier warning is in sharp contrast to our State Department's continuing advice to put off all but essential travel to Egypt. "The State Department is always the last to bow to reality," Paldi of Ya'lla Tours told me. He added that he is in constant touch with his representatives in Cairo, and they are all firmly of the opinion that Egypt is again as safe as it ever was. Obviously, you must make your own decision as to that, and no one else can provide such an assurance.

Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer's Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program, The Travel Show, with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer. Find more destinations online and read Arthur Frommer's blog at frommers.com.

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