Understanding Egypt Oriented Travel Companies
by Jimmy Dunn
It doesn't hurt for a prospective tourist to Egypt to have a little understanding about the various types of travel companies who work with Egyptian tourism. In fact, understanding these companies can prevent problems. For one thing, these companies have vastly different capabilities and experience. Tourists who are selecting an organized tour to Egypt do so for a number of reasons, but it is important to realize that for almost all of them, they seek the safety and comfort of being lead through the process of their tour by someone who will take care of them throughout the trip. The tourist, after all, is going to what they often perceive as a strange and distant land.
There are basically four types of travel companies in the United States that send tourists to Egypt, plus one other type which exists in a number of European markets. In addition, various tour companies may straddle one type or another. Each type of travel company has certain advantages, and the purpose of this article is not to elude to one type being better than another.
Individual Tour Organizers
The smallest of the travel operators are usually individuals who put together tours that they may very likely lead themselves, or have the tour lead by a close associate in Egypt. This type of company may only put together a very few tours each year, and as often as not, the tours are specialized. They may be "New Age" or spiritual tours, or they may be Christian religious tours, but they may also be very classical tours as well. They usually only fill one tour at a time.
The real advantage of these tours is the personalization. For example, the individual who organizes these tours may in fact be an archaeologist, an Egyptologist, a minister or even an author of books on Egypt. If so, the organizer will usually lead the tour themselves, though most frequently they will have to employee the services of at least a licensed guide for the tour. Others will make special arrangements with a larger ground tour operator in Egypt for services, but will still lead the tour in some fashion while in Egypt. In a few rare cases, the organizer may actually be a licensed guide (an Egyptian), and therefore will be the guide for the tour as well. Guides for tours in Egypt must, however, be licensed.
Another facet of this type of travel operator is their knowledge, regardless of whether they guide the tour or not. Such operators usually have a good understanding of Egypt, or at least the specialized topic of their tour in regards to Egypt.
The disadvantage of some of these types of tour operators is that sometimes the tours can be somewhat more expensive than other tours. For example, if the organizer is a well known author, you will be paying somewhat more for his or her services then a normal tour leader. In some cases, this can be very advantageous. For example, if the organizer is a well known Egyptologist, this may open doors for the tour that would not otherwise be open, allowing access perhaps to sections of monuments that are not otherwise available. However, other organizers of such tours may have no such advantage, but will still usually be experts on the topic of the tour.
It is important to note that such operators are often not equipped to arrange tours outside of their field of expertise.
Wholesalers are at the other end of the spectrum, but while they offer wholesale services to others, they often also sell tours retail to the public. These companies specialize in tours to Egypt, though they may also offer a few other destinations. They usually have at least representation contracts with specific Egyptian ground operators. An Egyptian ground operator is a company that offers the facilities and usually the guides for a tour once it is on the ground in Egypt. Wholesalers may actually be a branch of an Egyptian ground operator with offices in various countries.
These companies often do sell retail services, but in such cases they are not necessarily less expensive to deal with then a normal travel agent. They must maintain a retail price that does not aggravate the normal travel agents, who often fill the bulk of their tours. Most of their tours are sold at wholesale prices to regular travel agents.
Wholesalers usually have a comprehensive understanding of the Egyptian travel market and may provide almost every conceivable type of tour, from classical historic tours to beach vacations on the Red Sea, though some may be more limited. Further, employees of the wholesaler will have often toured Egypt themselves, and more than once. Basically, these people have a better understanding of the over all tourist industry to Egypt than any other group.
The one draw back is that their services are not usually very personalized. They must put together many tours each year, sending thousands of people to Egypt. However, the tours are usually well arranged, with professional leaders and guides.
Egyptian Tour Companies
Today, on the Internet, one may directly book tours with the Egyptian ground operators themselves. In many cases, ground operators do not, and often cannot arrange international air travel, but booking directly with them may be less expensive than any other type of travel company. Unfortunately, because they often do not arrange air travel, buying the airline ticket retail may adversely offset some of these savings.
These ground operators certainly know their way around Egypt better than any other type of company, but their job only beings when you arrive in Egypt, so the process of getting there is often completely in the hands of the tourist. Tourists must also be very careful to select a good ground operator, which can be a very "pot luck" type of adventure.
Some of the largest of the ground operators have offices in other countries, in which event they also become wholesalers in those countries, but still, the tourist must be careful in choosing which one to use, as they only represent the one ground operator. However, ground operators with international offices in other countries are large, and usually as international companies they offer consistently good tours.
On the one hand, regular travel agents potentially offer the most personalized services of any group sending tours to Egypt. They may be a trusted business that the tourist has used for other destinations, and they usually have a local office where one may go for face to face arrangements, a fact that is unique to this group.
On the other hand, they frequently offer almost every destination, and their expertise on any one of these may be very limited or even non-existent. They come in basically two flavors, including national companies and smaller, most often locally owned companies, and they probably as a whole send the bulk of tourists to Egypt. Larger companies may have an Egyptian specialist, and this is very good, but he or she will probably not be the person a tourist deal with when arranging an Egyptian tour.
The real problem with travel agents is that they must deal with either a wholesaler, or in some instance for the larger travel agents, an Egyptian ground operator directly. There is no other way for them really to send people on tours. Further, to be really qualified to send people to Egypt, they must have enough experience with the wholesaler or ground operator to trust them with their clients. In the best of cases, the agent will have even taken a FAM (familiarization) trip to Egypt.
Unfortunately, many travel agents have not fulfilled these necessary requirements because they simply do not deal with that many people who wish to visit Egypt. If one of their clients is insistent about going to Egypt, their only alternative will be to call upon a wholesaler who they probably met at a tradeshow but who they otherwise know little about. Frequently, however, they may use excuses to direct the tourist to a whole other destination, quoting "safety concerns" or some other factor. In such cases, the best of these companies will refer the tourist to another agency that has more experience in Egyptian travel, but this is rare for obvious reasons.
In fact, many of the very good travel agents who send tours to Egypt limit their destinations, becoming specialists in a region such as the Mediterranean, or African tours.
Every other type of travel company who deals with Egyptian tourism should have enough experience to answer almost every question one might have about travel to Egypt. But a good indication of a normal travel agent's qualifications is if they have a very basic knowledge and can answer some of your questions off hand, and appear to have someone they can easily contact for the more difficult questions. If they do not, then chances are they have never gone to the trouble of establishing a relationship with a wholesaler or ground operator, and therefore cannot be expected to have a trusted, time tested relationship.
Besides the four types of travel operators that we will set out below, Europe also offers one additional type of travel company, the large charter companies. I refer to them as charter companies because they charter their own flights to Egypt, sending huge quantities of tourists, a planeload at a time.
However, these companies typically are not offering classical tours, but rather beach vacations, notably on the Red Sea. They are principally interested in quantities, and the vacation may be very reasonably priced. However, their involvement with tourists is limited in the way of tours.
Last Updated: June 22nd, 2011