On January 25, protests erupted throughout Egypt, culminating in the removal of the president. The turmoil dented tourism, but the recovery has begun, and in a nation that offers luxury and authentic experiences in such abundance, time will heal the wounds.
Nobody will be surprised to hear that arrival numbers to all parts of Egypt plummeted earlier this year and have not fully recovered yet.
Aspire’s own statistics reflected the collapse with just a fifth of the total bookings made in January being made in the following month, and stuttering growth since.
However, British guests have been the most loyal, to such an extent that an enormous party was thrown in Sharm el-Sheikh’s new entertainment centre Soho Square for British visitors earlier this year to say thank you.
Khaled Ramy, UK and Ireland director of the Egyptian State Tourist Office, is confident the recovery is gaining momentum. “Occupancy rates in hotels in Sharm and Hurghada are very good now. Tourism is flourishing,” he said.
“We will continue our strong co-operation with operators by hosting educationals to Egypt and workshops in the UK – agents are very important to us.
“The recovery is not unexpected and will not be thrown off course by smaller protests that flared up in July.”
From the classic Nile cruise and the bustle of Cairo and Alexandria, to the Red Sea resorts of Sharm and Hurghada, there are few destinations that offer luxury clients such a variety of options and few that pick themselves up so quickly after a major change in the country.
Egypt covers the spectrum: rich and poor, elegant and slightly shabby.
At the elegant end is the Four Seasons Hotel, Cairo, located at Nile Plaza.
Four Seasons doesn’t tend to get much wrong and here, yet again, it has put the hotel into the context of its location – tradition is a part of everything.
The cocktail bar, the restaurants, spa and host of other expected facilities are top-notch and seamless – as is the meander from hotel into luxury mall.
There are so many fascinating works of art in this one hotel alone that they have been able to fill a large souvenir book with reproductions of them.
The other extreme awaits on the other side of the doorman.
Unlike the caress of perfumed air and spotless decor of the hotel, Cairo bludgeons you, ramming itself into every pore, filling the five senses to the brim.
As most experts will tell you, upmarket clients want authentic experiences within the true heart of a place. They don’t want to observe through the windows of a limousine, and in Cairo a limo would be a prison.
Send clients out on the rollercoaster ride that is a stroll through the capital city.
All paths lead to somebody’s grandfather’s shop and a “fantastic deal” but it is all done with good grace and charm.
Even the white-uniformed tourist police visible on every street corner are cheerful and welcoming, and will happily sling their semi-automatic guns over their shoulder to help a tourist across the crowded street or point them in the right direction.
There is the sanitised choice of the constructed kasbah but far more exciting are the easily located real souks.
These are warrens of alleyways paved with dirt and uneven rocks full of ordinary Egyptian people haggling over the still living chicken or rabbit.
And there are places where skilled fishmongers gut freshly caught fish before your eyes; and where craftsmen in T-shirts and bare feet painstakingly create exquisite little boxes rippling with lapis lazuli gemstones and other precious materials.
This sits at the other end of the authenticity scale, with hotels built one after another in a line down the beach.
The focuses here are sun worshipping, the beach, and, as at all resorts on the Red Sea, diving.
The options at the luxury end are plentiful including Four Seasons, Hyatt Regency, Maritim, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, the Royal Savoy, Rotana – many of the big players have invested in the area.
Na’ama Bay, the traditional epicentre of Sharm, is a bar, restaurant and bright lights haven suitable for a lively audience. Soho Square is a better choice for a more relaxed evening out.
REST OF THE RED SEA
Red Sea holidays sales director Jason Hilton believes Hurghada will eventually overtake Sharm. It has learnt from Sharm’s mistakes and is building the hotels so they are more spread out.
It has a wide choice of bars and restaurants, arguably a more upmarket nightlife than Sharm and a more authentic offering with its traditional market town.
The resorts to watch are Makadi Bay, which is just 40 minutes from Hurghada airport, and Sahl Hasheesh.
The former is a self-contained village that features a network of pedestrianised streets with shops and restaurants, so it’s ideal for families. Two new five-star hotels are Sunwing Waterworld Makadi and Makadi Spa Hotel.
Sahl Hasheesh is an even more luxurious purpose-built resort 11 miles south of Hurghada.
It covers a surprisingly large amount of land – two-thirds the size of Manhattan.
The pick of the hotels at the moment is the Oberoi.
Cairo tour tips from Abercrombie & Kent
– Private Access to Pyramids area AND Cheops Pyramid 6am-8am
This tour takes place before regular opening hours and enables clients to tour the Pyramids without the crowds. Entrance to the largest Pyramid (Cheops) is included.
– Private Access to Workmen tombs in Pyramids area 9am-4pm (1 hour)
Little was known about the common folk of ancient Egypt until archaeologists discovered the tombs at Giza of the workmen who built the Pyramids. None of the workers was mummified but their skeletal remains and tombs tell us much about their lives, diet and work schedule.
– Private Access to Paws of the Sphinx 9am-4pm (30 minutes)
About 1,000 years after the Sphinx was built it was covered in sand until a young prince had a dream in which the Sphinx told him that if he cleared the sand away, he would become a pharaoh. This story is told on the Dream Stela that was placed between the Sphinx’s paws by King Tuthmose IV.
Sunwing Waterworld Makadi
This new five-star all-inclusive family hotel has its own water park, designed by the people behind Atlantis, Dubai. There are five restaurants, all with children’s menus, a variety of sports and a free shuttle to the Grand Mall in Hurghada.
Makadi Spa Hotel
Another new five-star but this time for adults-only. All spa treatments are provided by Cinq Mondes and include massage, aromatherapy and free use of the Jacuzzi, sauna, hammam and fitness centre. Situated on a private beach, it has three outdoor freshwater pools.
The first phase of this luxury new sporting complex is due to open in December. When complete, its facilities will include an 18-hole golf course a spa treatment centre, swimming pools, restaurants, bars and apartments.
Four Seasons El Gouna
Four Seasons seems to like Egypt – this development, due to open in 2014, will extend the brand’s presence from Cairo, Alexandria and Sharm.
This is a community-moderated forum.
All post are the individual views of the respective commenter and are not the expressed views of Travel Weekly.
By posting your comments you agree to accept our Terms & Conditions.