U.S. Tour Operators Returning to Egypt

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U.S. tour operators pulled out of Egypt in the midst of the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. But the Giza pyramids and other popular ancient Egypt tourist sites, museums and beaches are open for business, and the tour companies -- and tourists -- are heading back.

Grand Circle Travel and its Overseas Adventure Travel, specialists in tours for American travelers age 55 and up, will return to Egypt with tours on March 14, officials say.

To get its agents enthused about selling Egypt again, the company announced it would send 10 employees there for free. About a third of the 460 workers at the company's Boston headquarters put their names in the lottery, according to spokeswoman Priscilla O'Reilly.

"I heard people flying down the stairs and off the elevator last Thursday as soon as the e-mail went out," O'Reilly says.

Florida-based Sunny Land Tours this week began sending customers back to the Egypt on regular package itineraries, with the bonus of a half-price discount. A 10-day tour including a Nile cruise is priced at only $1,299 including air from New York.

Luxury travel specialist Abercrombie & Kent USA says it will resume regular operations in Egypt on April 1, with small group tours to begin on April 14 – with a 10-day tour that includes a four-night Nile cruise.

Amr Badr, the managing director of A&K Egypt, writes in a report shared with AOL Travel News, "The situation on the ground has continued to improve and we believe that the groundwork is being laid for a return to normal operations. Egypt's new energy and spirit of optimism are leading the country forward to political reform and greater stability."

While damaged during demonstrations in nearby Liberation Square, all the galleries and halls at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo are open to the public and all outlets are functioning, including a new gift shop and coffee shop, Badr says.

"We visited the museum in person and it was, in fact, quite a treat to enjoy its priceless artifacts without the crowds," he writes. "All major tourist sites throughout Egypt are now open and functioning normally."

While the U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Egypt, international travel warnings have begun to ease.

Badr says A&K has already sent some visitors to sites in Cairo "and feedback was very favorable."

"We have also witnessed the arrival of a number of tourists already, particularly from Europe, to Sharm El Sheikh and the Red Sea and, naturally, smaller numbers to Cairo. Hotels have begun activating promotions," he adds.

Some operators are taking a wait-and-see approach to returning to Egypt. Tom Armstrong, spokesman for Tauck, says as of now the company is scheduled to resume tours in April.

"Between our two tour itineraries that include Egypt, we only have five additional departures scheduled in April or May. After that, we don't operate again until September," Armstrong says.

The U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA), a group whose members evacuated scores of American guests from Egypt as protests turned violent, says while some of its members have indicated they are planning to return to Egypt in March and April at least two are holding off until the fall.

Egypt's economy depends heavily on tourism. With some 210,000 tourists from the U.S. and elsewhere fleeing the country in January, and others canceling plans in February, the country's pocketbook took a hit -- there are estimates the uprising cost $825 million in lost tourism revenue, reports the Associated Press.

This deficit was not missed by hundreds of Egyptian college students, some with travel-related jobs, who held a rally last week at the pyramids of Giza to promote tourism.

Meanwhile, Continental Airlines says it will not launch service from Newark, N.J. to Cairo on May 18, as previously announced, but rather has postponed the new service indefinitely.

"We're reacting to the decline in demand," a United Continental spokesman tells Reuters.

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