NEW YORK — An increasingly unstable situation in Egypt forced cruise companies, tour providers and solo U.S. travelers to cancel trips and change plans Friday.
New Yorker Zach Honig, 25, currently traveling in Israel, said in an e-mail that he "was planning to go on to Cairo after this trip via bus, but decided to go to Italy and France instead."
Cruise companies were also canceling port calls and trips. Norwegian Cruise Line spokeswoman Courtney Recht said Friday that its Norwegian Jade ship would go to Istanbul this weekend instead of Alexandria, where the Jade had been expected to overnight Saturday to Sunday. Two Nile cruises by Avalon Waterways, scheduled for Jan. 29 and Feb. 1, were also canceled, with guests offered refunds and a chance to rebook later.
The State Department issued a travel alert Friday urging Americans to defer any non-essential travel to Egypt because of the large anti-government protests. It warned U.S. citizens already in the country to stay put until the situation stabilizes.
Late Friday afternoon, Gate 1 Travel, a U.S.-based tour-booking company, which sends several thousand Americans to Egypt each year, canceled all scheduled Egypt tour departures through the end of February. "Multiple airlines have announced service suspensions which will dramatically affect travelers in Egypt and of course travelers scheduled to depart in the near term," said Gate 1 spokesman Marty Seslow. Another tour company, Road Scholar, based in Boston, canceled a program scheduled for Feb. 6.
Abercrombie & Kent, a luxury tour company that sends thousands of Americans to Egypt each year, canceled departures through Feb. 1 and was working Friday to assist clients already in the country or en route.
"Everything operated normally this morning, but this afternoon the Egyptian government issued a curfew, so our clients are being restricted to their hotels," said A&K spokeswoman Pamela Lassers. Arriving A&K guests were being put in hotels near the airport to keep them out of the city, but depending on the situation, the company hoped to proceed with excursions to Upper Egypt, which include a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan.
The curfew created problems for airlines because many flights arrive in Cairo late at night or pre-dawn. Some airlines were trying to reschedule flights so passengers would arrive at other times. Delta Air Lines Inc., the only U.S. carrier that flies directly to Egypt, said its last flight out of Cairo for New York would leave Saturday, after which service would be "indefinitely suspended as a result of civil unrest."
Winter is high season for tourism to Egypt, which relies heavily on visitors as a source of revenue. But Americans make up just a small percentage of the 15 million tourists who, according to the Egyptian Tourist Authority in New York, travel to Egypt each year to see the Nile, pyramids, beaches and other attractions. Only 273,000 U.S. residents visited Egypt in 2009, according to statistics from the U.S. Commerce Department, making it a relatively obscure destination for Americans compared to other countries like Mexico, which attracted 19.4 million Americans in 2009, or France, visited by 1.9 million Americans that year.