Get ready! John takes you through what to expect when planning post-Covid travel to Egypt, including warnings about insanely overpriced branded trips, what those trip should really cost, and how to take advantage of the post-pandemic travel downturn to plan upcoming travel for less.
Please feel welcome to reach out to me at John@EgyptElite.com for help planning your trip to Egypt and I’ll be personally happy to help you make it a reality with my company Egypt Elite.
NEW: Episode Transcript
Hello again everybody and happy December. I’m recording this podcast on December 4th, 2020 and what a hell of a year it has been for all of us. The last episode of the Egypt Travel Podcast I recorded was back in June right after what we now know was the first wave of the global Coronavirus pandemic hit, and while we knew we still had a ways to go before it would all be over and we’d be able to go back to traveling again, I think few of us imagined it would continue on for quite as long as it has and with the second wave now being even worse than the first wave in nearly every country around the world.
But I’m not going to spend any more of this episode talking about Coronavirus because it finally appears that we’re in the last inning or the last chapter of this nightmare and there’s a lot of reason to be hopeful and start seriously talking about travel and travel planning again. Three vaccines are on the cusp of approval and mass distribution in Western countries, in addition to the vaccines developed in China and Russia. And I read somewhere recently that there are dozens more that are also out there and still in various lesser stages of development, so it finally appears that relief and resolution are on the horizon as we close out this crazy crazy year.
So THAT means that we can start planning travel again and we can make up for all of that lost travel time in 2020 with some amazing bucket-list experiences we’ve always wanted to do before we die – like travel to Egypt and see the Pyramids, the tombs and temples of the Pharaohs, the magnificent golden treasures of King Tut that survived into the modern era by sheer chance, and all of the other incredible stuff there is to see and do in Egypt.
You know, most people think of Egypt as a destination that you go to just to see pyramids, tombs, and temples, but there is SO much more to this country than just all of the historic monuments. Don’t get me wrong though. Those are incredible enough and plenty of reason alone to go to Egypt without anything else even being there. No other place in the world can you see the combinations of things you can in Egypt.
Sure, other countries have temples and a few have pyramid-like structures, and there are burial sites of famous rulers in other countries too. But nowhere else can you see all of these things in one place and in one trip, and nowhere else has these things on the scale of magnificence and grandeur as does Egypt. Egypt and its sites is just a whole other world, so even if you’ve literally been to every other country in the world, Egypt still blows people away when they finally make it there and see it.
Now if there’s one thing about travel that this pandemic has taught us this year in 2020 it’s that life is short and precious, and we don’t have time to waste to see and do the things that we want to see and do. Covid has targeted the young, the old, the healthy, the unhealthy, the rich, the poor. It has not spared any demographic around the world. It has showed us that we might not be here next year and that procrastination in getting back out there on the road and in there air when international travel becomes safe again is what we should be doing with an eagerness like never before, and the time to start planning out that travel and is now!
To be honest, just since the announcement of the 3 new vaccines in North America and Europe in the last month, I’ve seen an enormous uptick in requests for trip proposals at my company Egypt Elite, and 2021 travel, even late-2021 travel, is already starting to book up. The best guides, the limited slots available with the best companies, the nicer vehicles, the nicer hotels, etc. are going to book up by the end of this month and early next month.
So my best advice to anyone wanting to see Egypt in 2021 or 2022 is to start the planning and booking process now. You don’t have to pay now, but you should at least reach out and get on our calendar so that we can save a spot for you and your family or group and you’re not left with the bottom of the barrel in terms of the companies and service providers that are left if you want until later to get started in your planning.
Egypt is a place where you really want to have a good tour operator behind you handling your logistics, even if you’re just one or two people traveling together or even if you’re an experienced traveler. Egypt is a whole other world of chaos and complications too for those who try to go it alone, so just keep that in mind as you’re thinking about your trip planning there.
Now, what I did want to do in this episode is follow through on what I promised in the last episode and tell you about how you can take full advantage of the slowdown in global travel and tourism to plan a cheaper in price but much better in quality trip than ever before.
One of the things we did in Egypt during 2020 is lock in long-term pricing contracts for 2021 and 2022 because we knew that travel would of course eventually bounce back and that Egypt is one of the absolute top destinations in the world that everyone wants to and should see before they die.
Egypt is not a fad destination like many other places are, so we knew that there would always be a market here, so we had no qualms with investing in 2020 and doubling down on our capabilities there so that when travel resumed we’d be able to offer the best quality and services in Egypt.
So some of the trips and packages we’ve been able to put together late this year for clients who are traveling to Egypt in mid- and late-2021 – and who are being smart by already planning those trips out and getting their spots reserved with us – some of those packages have been between 40 and 60 percent below what those same exact itineraries priced out as last year in 2019.
So I wanted to give a couple of examples of real itineraries that we’ve put together for some of our clients and give you real costs for what those itineraries cost last year vs. this year… meaning for booking this year, although they’re actually traveling next year. Once travel resumes at scale next year, prices will obviously go back up again because the demand will return and probably increase a lot since everyone missed travel in 2020. But it is what it is now for the lucky and smart ones who at least start the process of booking their trips in late-2020 and even into early 2021.
First, I want to talk about the trips that Disney started offering to Egypt either last year or the year before. Now I know that many people just love the Disney brand for various reasons, and if you have kids then of course you’re wedded to Disney. They have some of the most classic movies and theme park experiences of all time. But when a brand starts to stretch out beyond what made them a great brand and they start looking to slap their brand on anything and everything to make more and more money and keep shareholders happy, things are never as good as their original products.
Disney branched out from creating destinations – their theme parks – years ago into trying to organize trips to other places around the world for groups of Disney fans. Now it’s possible that in other places, these trips have been wonderful and worth the price. In Egypt, however, which I do know inside and out, I can tell you that the Disney trips are a huge ripoff. Not only are they overpriced, especially for 2021, but they’re using these mass market service providers as subcontractors that don’t know their guides, don’t know their drivers, and deliver these typical huge-group, flag-following, tourist bubble trips that are not authentic experiences in the least and which are a huge waste of your money, if you ask me.
It’s pretty rare to have huge tour groups of 25 or 30 these days anymore because the tourism industry has kind of grown past that and it’s a thing of the past now. It’s really impersonal and you’re just herded around like cattle on these huge uncomfortable coach busses and you’re herded from place to place with maybe one guide for 20 or 30 people, or more sometimes. It’s just a really crappy experience for a visit to Egypt, and you’re paying way more for a way worse experience.
However, just to give you an example of what a Disney’s Egypt trips cost in 2019 and 2020 versus what they should cost now, let’s look at the itinerary and the numbers.
Ok, so I’m literally looking at a Disney Egypt trip itinerary, and I’m going to go through that with you first and tell you why I think their itinerary is absolute crap. The first red flag I see in looking at it is the accommodations they’re having you stay in. Now, this is where someone who doesn’t know anything about Egypt would be fooled, but because you have been listening to the Egypt Travel Podcast for a while at least, you’ve likely heard me talk about the hotels in Egypt and the ones that you’d think are nice but are not, and the ones that you wouldn’t guess were nice or that you’ve never heard of but which will blow you away.
The Ritz Carlton property in Cairo is solidly in that first category. It may be considered 5-star, but it’s the shittiest 5-star property in Cairo and definitely NOT worth what they charge. Ritz Carltons in many other cities and countries around the world are very nice hotels, usually the nicest or at least in the top 2 or 3 nicest hotels in any given city. However, hotel brands are not the same in Egypt and the Nile Ritz Carlton is a very blah hotel and not worth the money by a long shot.
It used to be a Hilton property and I think it basically looks about the same even after they supposedly renovated it and put out some pretty flower arrangements. It’s not what you would expect from a Ritz, so that’s the first problem. There ARE many other super nice, posh, luxe, wonderful 5-star hotels in Cairo, but they’re putting their people in the worst of them to start the trip.
Next, they list the Nile cruise boat they’re using. Now those of you who know me from this podcast and the blog know that I’m not a fan of the Nile cruises. The boats are usually nasty if you look under the rug (and sometimes even if you don’t), and that includes the supposed 5-star ones.
The only exception to my warnings against the nasty Nile cruises are what we call the Dahabiya boats, which are smaller and much nicer. Those usually have about 10-15 rooms maximum and they can stop along the shore in more locations because they’re not these massive floating monstrosities like the bigger cruise ships. The Dahabiyas are far more luxurious and are pretty much the same price as the bigger nasty cruise boats. So Disney has their people on one called the Tulip, which is one of the bigger ones that I always recommend that people avoid.
Next, they have them flying all the way over to Sharm el Sheikh in the Sinai Peninsula to stay at a no-name property called the Coral Seal Resort. This property isn’t even in the top tier of properties in Sharm, much less at the top of the top, which is where you should be staying for what Disney is trying to charge. Also, I wouldn’t recommend bothering to go all the way over to Sharm because you have to fly there and even make a connection to get there, and there are much much nicer places on the Red Sea to go that don’t require 2 additional flights to get there.
Sharm and Hurghada are where people go who don’t know Egypt or who haven’t talked to anyone who knows Egypt, and they may have just heard of it and they think it’s nice because they’ve heard of it before, but it’s not where anyone who knows Egypt would recommend that someone visit on a first trip to Egypt, especially a luxury one.
So let’s talk about their sites and routing next. With the exception of their inclusion of Sharm el Sheikh, the rest of the itinerary isn’t that bad and it includes many of the things I’d also recommend visiting on a first time trip to Egypt. Of course they have the Pyramids and Sphinx in there, although they don’t take you down to see the older pyramids at Saqqara and Dashur, which I’d recommend including if you’re doing 10 full days in Egypt like this. Then of course they have the Egyptian Museum and a brief tour around Cairo and hitting up the Khan el Khalili souk. Ok, fine, standard.
Then the next day they have you flying down to Abu Simbel and spending the early afternoon there before heading back north to Aswan. Abu Simbel is really far south down by the Sudanese border in southern Egypt, but it’s a really unique site that many people have heard of all over the world, and it’s one that I think can be worth visiting on a first trip to Egypt as long as you’re there for more than about 5-6 days. If you’re only there a week or less and you try to cram in Abu Simbel, that’s a bit of a stretch, but this trip is 10 days, so it’s good to include it.
Ok, then once you’re back in Aswan, they have you doing a 3-night down-river cruise, again on one of the big ugly boats that I’ve recommended against for years for a lot of reasons about which I’ve talked extensively. Again, if you want to do a Nile cruise, there’s a much nicer and better way to do it than one one of these disgusting big mass-market boats. You can take a much nicer dahahiya boat that has 8 or 10 cabins instead of 50 or 70 cabins.
Anyway, after the 3-day sand cruise they have you doing basically 2 half-days in Luxor and skipping one of the most iconic sites there, which is Queen Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple. That’s seriously one of Luxor’s most iconic and amazing, not to mention historically significant sites, and it’s nowhere to be found on their itinerary. Instead, they just have their people doing Luxor and Karnak Temples, and when they go to the western bank to do the Valley of the Kings they totally skip over Queen Hatshepsut’s temple. Pity.
Then they have you fly all the way to Sharm in the afternoon only to spend one full day in Sharm the next day, then you’re fly back to Cairo and you’re done.
Now, let’s get to the real juicy part, because I took lots of screen shots of their prices in 2019 and 2020 and requested more information on the pricing directly from Disney then because I really couldn’t believe they were charging what they were charging for that itinerary, but just wait until I tell you what they’re charging for 2021. It’s not what you think either!!
Ok so pre-pandemic and at the outbreak of the pandemic, here’s what Disney was charging for that itinerary for two people… you ready for it? $17,198… dollars!!! Not Egyptian Pounds… US dollars. 17, 198 for two people. So that’s $8,599… so basically 8,600 bucks PER person.
Now this is the price that stayed valid up through May, when is when I PDFed the email from them asking me to pay this amount for the trip for two that I had inquired about over the phone, when I also asked a lot of other questions and confirmed a lot of the other details I mentioned, like the fact that they hard you together in huge group with 25-30 other travellers and herd you around like cattle with one local guide for the whole group.
Now as if that weren’t outrageous enough, all of the honest tour companies have dropped their prices for 2020 and 2021 because it has become cheaper to deliver a trip like this now that tourism has slowed down globally. Well either they’ve dropped the price or upgraded the experience. So what has Disney done? They’ve increased the price on their customers for their Egypt trips to a whopping… are you ready for it? I’m looking at their website right now as I’m recording this episode and for that same crappy itinerary in those second-rate hotels and boats, they’ve increased it to a STARTING price of $9,199, with most of their available dates going for well over $10,000. And that’s PER PERSON!!! It’s absolutely insane. They even charge as high as $10,799 per person during the peak of low season in Egypt, which is even crazier. They’re charging you more to come during the shittiest time when it’s so unbearably hot that no one else wants to be there and the demand is even lower.
I’m all about luxury travel and traveling comfortably and splurging on things that are worth it, but the big problem I have with these Disney trips is that they’re not worth anywhere near the cost. You can get a much much nicer trip than what they’re offering you here for thousands and thousands of dollars less… especially post-pandemic.
So now let me run you through what a trip like this should cost, even if you bump it up to a more luxurious trip staying in much nicer hotels and much posher resorts or Nile cruise boats with half of the people they have in their groups or even doing it as a private small-group trip.
I ran all of the calculations in my company Egypt Elite’s pricing spreadsheets, and even if you cut the group size in HALF, which normally means things get more expensive because costs aren’t spread out as much, but even if you cut their group size in half and upgrade both the Nile Cruise AND the hotels to a true 5-star properties, you should only be paying $4775 for that trip, not 8600 as it was last year or earlier this year, or between $9200 and 10,800 like they’re charging for 2021. All of that is just insane. If you have extra money to literally throw away and want to stay in crappier properties, please reach out to me and I’m more than happy to hook you up with a more luxurious trip for half the price and give you the names of some very worthy charities in Egypt to which you can donate the other half of that money instead of literally throwing it away on a criminally overpriced trip.
Even if you don’t want to do a group trip and you just want to do that same itinerary as a couple or a family or just a small group of friends, ok maybe add another $1000 or so onto that price I told you, the $4775, and you could even do it as a private trip without anyone else on it.
And also, now that I’m thinking about it, you could shave even more off of that too by going to an even nicer Red Sea city and even staying at a MUCH nicer resort. There’s absolutely no reason to spend the extra money to fly all the way over to Sharm and back to stay at a second-tier resort. But do you get the point? You can easily save money on a trip to Egypt and stay in much nicer places. You just have to have someone who knows what they’re doing planning and executing your trip, not a nameless and faceless large company that overcharges you just because they can and you’d never know the difference. literally.
Oh, and by the way… I completely forgot to mention this, but that pricing I gave you that a trip like that should cost…. that already includes tipping for everyone along the trip. That’s another thing about most companies like that is that they quote you these inflated ridiculous prices, then they surprise you and tell you that you have to pay more to pay the guides and drivers at the end because your package didn’t really include that. They said it did, but then they tell you that you have to tip them at the end and that’s how they really get paid. So you end up shelling out hundreds and hundreds of dollars more in tips to everyone and their brother who was involve at the end, but we don’t do that at our company so that’s why our pricing is always up front and includes tipping. We actually pay out staff well and they don’t needs tips and don’t even accept them. So that price I gave you earlier for that Disney trip already includes tips and the price I gave you for what they’re charging does NOT include the extra expected tipping.
And by the way, on that note, if any company except for Egypt Elite tells you that tipping is optional, they’re lying to you and that should be a red flag to run away from them. I say except Egypt Elite because we tell you up front that the tipping is already included in our package prices. You’re still tipping, but we didn’t surprise you with it at the end. We included it in the price we quoted you in the beginning, which no other company will do. So if you see “tips optional” anywhere in Egypt, run away because they’re dishonest players.
Some companies will actually be straightforward and say that gratuities are not included in the price but are expected at the end. I can respect that. But when they say it’s optional, they’re lying to the customer and that’s also usually a sign that they treat their local staff very poorly too. Just some advice there from lots of experience.
Ok, so that’s enough about those rip-off Disney trips and what that type of itinerary should really cost, especially post-pandemic. Let me end by giving some examples of some other really amazing trips that we’ve priced out recently with some really amazing savings. The most recently one I even had to re-price twice because I thought it was way too low, but it turned out to all be correct.
Ok so the first I’ll share – without saying who it was for but I know they listen to the podcast so they may recognize their trip itinerary in here – is for a group of 8 friends traveling together towards the end of 2021. They wanted options for a 2-week trip and a 3-week trip because some of them can only stay for 2 weeks then have to get back to the US, whereas the organisers and some others wanted to stay over for a full 3-weeks.
The 2-week itinerary included all of the major sites that everyone should see on their first trip to Egypt plus some extras that many first-time visitors don’t make it to. Let’s see, they’re doing the Giza pyramids and Sphinx, plus some of the older pyramids down at Saqqara and Dashur, which are great to see too. They’re doing the Egyptian Museum, which will be the new Grand Egyptian Museum by the time they’re there. They’re doing a tour of Old Islamic Cairo and Coptic Cairo, the Khan el Khalili souk or market, the Cairo Citadel and some mosques. They’re also doing a trip out to a local farm to have lunch there and also have a free day in Cairo to explore a little on their own.
Then they’re flying down to Aswan and spending a few nights there while also doing an excursion down to Abu Simbel. They’re doing the Nubian Museum in Aswan and also seeing the Temple of Isis in Aswan. They’re heading up to Edfu to see the Temple or Horus and Hathor on the way to Luxor, then spending a few nights in Luxor and seeing all of the eastern bank and western bank sites, including Karnak Temple, the Luxor Museum, Luxor Temple, they Valley of the Kings, Tut’s tomb, the Colossi of Memnon, and Hatshepsut’s temple.
Then they’re flying back to Cairo and some have to return to the US that day because it will have been two full weeks already, and some others are staying over to go spend a few nights in Alexandria to see the Greco-Roman sites there and a little more outside of Alexandria, then they’re coming back to Cairo for another night before they fly out the next day, so that makes about 3 weeks for them.
So their trip priced out at $3370 for the 2-week or 14-day trip and $4310 for the extension to do Alexandria and Cairo again for a 3rd week. For comparison, a 3-week trip that we did in 2019 for some clients priced in at just under about $7,000, whereas now it’s down to $4300 until our slots for 2021 book up, since we only take a certain number of clients per year. That’s all including hotels and domestic flights, but trips to Egypt these days never include the international flight because that’s easier for you to book on your own.
Ok one more example… this was for a couple from Europe that I just priced out the other day who are doing 8 days in Egypt in 2021. Let’s see… they’re doing the Pyramids of Giza, and the additional older pyramids of Saqqara and Dashur. The Egyptian Museum, a tour of Old Islamic Cairo and the Khan el Khalili market. Then they’re flying to Aswan and visiting the Nubian Museum and doing a wonderful romantic sunset sail on the Nile in a traditional felucca boat. They’re making the journey down to Abu Simbel too to see the temples of Ramses II and Nefertari. They’re coming back up to Luxor and stopping to see the Temple of Horus and Hathor on the way in Edfu. Then in Luxor, they’re doing the Luxor Museum and all of the west and east bank sites – Karnak, Luxor Temple, the Valley of the Kings, Tut’s tomb, Colossi of Memnon, and Hatshepsut’s Temple. Then they’re flying back up to Cairo and on back to Europe where they live.
That’s the one that I had to do a double and a triple check on because I was really surprised how affordably it priced out, but that 8-day itinerary came in at $2280 without hotels and $2980 with hotels. Not bad at all for 8 days in Egypt, 5-star hotels, the best private guides and drivers in nice new vehicles… and that’s a private trip for just the 2 of them too. It’ll be really lovely. I’m so happy for them.
Ok, well I’m going to leave it there for now. You get the picture. Traveling to Egypt can really be quite affordable, even if you want to stay in over the top luxury properties and have private guides and chauffeurs and amazing experiences. Egypt is truly the trip of a lifetime, and if I personally and/or my company, Egypt Elite, can help you make that dream a reality in 2021, please do reach out and I’ll personally get involved in helping plan your trip and making it truly magical.
The #1 piece of advice I can give for travel in 2021 or even 2022 is to reach out now and book, or at least preliminarily reserve your spot, early because the best companies, guides, drivers, etc. will all book up fast as soon as these new vaccines get distributed. People are already roaring to get back in the air and on the road and to make up for lost time in 2020. So at least reach out and let us know if your’e interested, and we’ll answer all of your questions.
So we’ll see you in Egypt soon, and on another episode of the Egypt Travel Podcast even sooner. Ma’salaama everyone!