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Travel, tourism return to Egypt after Arab Spring
 Travel to Egypt has always been an adventure, playing into an inner Indiana Jones that craves a chance to come face to face with the deepest mysteries of civilization. And in Egypt visitors will find them in plenty — in pyramids and cities of the dead dating back 4,000 years. But travel to Egypt has become a mixed bag of late. American travelers and many U.S. tour operators pulled out of Egypt amid the roiling protests leading to revolution in what has become known as the Arab Spring. Two coups and three years later, the tourists are returning. While pyramids can wait, the demand for this destination cannot. The travel companies are coming back but the crowds, for now, are staying away. “Egypt is really the cradle of civilization and there is a lot of pent up demand for it now,” says John Boulding, global CEO of Insight Vacations, which has been running tours to Egypt for 35 years. “Rome pales next to Luxor and the monuments you see there. And what an amazing time to see these treasures – at a rare time in history when there are no crowds and some very good deals. Egypt is a real magnet right now and we would say come back and before the crowds get there – it’s at vanguard of resurgence.” Insight pulled out and cancelled its scheduled tours at the height of the uprising in 2011. It is resuming its tour schedule starting Jan. 8, with two tours: the 10-day Wonders of Egypt itinerary and the 13-day Splendors of Egypt tour, plus a 13-day regional tour that combines Egypt and Jordan. Demand has been strong, Mr. Boulding says. “This is a ground-breaking moment in Egypt and people have been waiting to be able to come back.” Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou has gone on record lamenting the loss of tourism in Egypt, which dipped by 25 percent during the first half of 2013. Some 14.7 million people visited the country in 2010, compared with 9.5 million last year. However, in September alone, the country saw a 200 percent rise in visitation from international markets over the same month a year ago. Many countries began lifting travel bans for Egypt this summer and, currently, only a conservative cautionary security message remains in place through the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, asking U.S. citizens to remain alert while traveling in Egypt. “We have a big presence on the ground in Egypt as a major tour operator in that country,” says Mr. Boulding. “We have Egyptians that have worked for us for 30-plus years and we’ve been monitoring at all times what has been happening there. It really would not make good business sense for us to be resuming tours to Egypt if our intel was registering a high degree of conflict.” Insight’s itineraries focus mostly on the Nile destinations from Cairo to Luxor and up the river to Aswan. Guests pick up a spiffed up felucca (sailboat) in Luxor and take a leisurely three-day sail through sand and time to Aswan. There they can see the dawn marvel that lights the dark inner sanctum of Abu Simbel shedding eerie illumination upon the giant, 72-foot statues as has been happening for 32 centuries. A ribbon of light falls on Ramses II, and the sun gods Re-Horakhty and Amon-Re. The Theban god of darkness, Ptah, is the only one that does not blaze in the solar alignment. The tours will be sweeter still due to the absence of crowds, the discounts that are aggressively trying to attract visitors back to this land, the cooperative efforts by the tourism ministry to make things safe and efficient for visitors, and by Egypt’s people, whose joy at seeing foreigners returning is palpable and welcoming. “The people are extra friendly because they know what it is like to lose what tourism brings. There is an extra special sense of welcoming visitors are going to be experiencing,” says Mr. Boulding. Egypt does not suffer from the same conservative Sharia laws that surrounding countries do. And although much about Western culture is well tolerated, guests will be asked to dress conservatively as a matter of caution and respect. Some of the street merchants can be aggressive, especially near top attraction sites and may be even more so given the dearth of tourism waves in the past three years. Insight’s experienced ground operators are usually able to abate these nuisances ahead of arrival. “The time really is now,” adds Mr. Boulding, noting that neither the deals and values to be found now nor the pleasant lack of crowds to be found now at such places as the pyramids of Giza and the famed Egyptian Museum will last. Insight intends to open up its tour itineraries to such destinations as Alexandria and the Sinai once tourism to Egypt gets back to full swing. For now, it’s pretty good just to combine fascinating ancient history with what has become modern history in the making.
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