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Friendly Planet Travel is returning to Egypt!

You might recall the harrowing experience we had in January when political protests erupted in Egypt while two of our tours were traveling through the country. We worked tirelessly during the ensuing weeks to ensure the safe return of all our Friendly Planet travelers.

In the end, every single member of our tours returned safely to the U.S. Due to the continuing unrest in the country, we had suspended our trips to Egypt indefinitely.

Since normal life has returned to Egypt, travelers have begun asking about the status of our programs and urging us to resume our tours.

Well, I have an exciting update to share today. I’m happy to announce that we are introducing a brand-new tour — A Taste of Egypt and Nile River Cruise.

As always, safety is our #1 concern when it comes to our travelers and we’re confident that we can safely resume our tours.
Now that a new day has dawned in Egypt, we’ve added a new element to our tours that lets travelers experience the amazing antiquities of the past and the changing culture and society that has emerged since January 2011.

Our travelers will have the opportunity to meet some of the participants in the revolution, hear their stories first hand, learn what the revolution has meant to them personally, and hear their hopes for the future. We are excited about this unique opportunity to get to know some of the region’s most recent change-makers.

And we’re happy that we too can finally return to business as usual in a destination we’ve been involved in for almost 30 years. In that time, we’ve made many friends and we know how difficult the past months have been. Tourism is a huge source of income for Egypt, and without the support of the tourism industry, many, many people are without work, hence without an income.

Knowing that this painful period is finally coming to an end has offered new hope and enthusiasm to Egypt’s tourism. In this warm and welcoming society, expect to be treated like family when you visit.

The icing on the cake is the pricing on our new tours. For as little as $1,599, you can enjoy this land of ancient wonders and modern miracles. These tours all include airfare from JFK and superior accommodations, plus plenty of included touring to all of the wonderful sites and sounds of ancient and new Egypt.

If you want to learn more about our return to Egypt, feel free to look at our new tour or contact us with any questions you may have.

The Christian Science Monitor looks at the worried families of travelers in Egypt

With the protests in Egypt turning violent, family and friends with loved ones in Egypt are getting increasingly nervous about their safety.

Gloria Goodale, staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor, covered this concern in her article, “Egypt protests from afar: Americans wait nervously for loved ones’ return.”

I spoke to Gloria about the work Friendly Planet Travel has been doing since the protests erupted to secure the safe arrival of our travelers in Egypt back in the U.S. She was kind enough to include this information in her article.

Thankfully, after days of nonstop work, Friendly Planet travelers are on their way home today. But thousands of other Americans are still waiting to get on a plane, which is nerve wracking for family members. Flip over to the article now to read how families are coping. Thanks again Gloria for including Friendly Planet Travel in your article.

Friendly Planet travelers in Egypt are en route to the US

This post has been updated here.

Early this morning, every Friendly Planet traveler in Egypt arrived at the Cairo Airport and boarded a nonstop EgyptAir flight to JFK International Airport in New York.

Walaa, a Friendly Planet Travel tour guide who has been with the travelers since the protests in Egypt erupted, accompanied them to the airport.

He called me at 2:30 a.m. to tell me that everyone was on the flight and en route to New York. The flight is expected to land at 3:51 p.m. I can’t thank Walaa enough for staying with our travelers throughout this entire situation.

We’re really glad to be at this point, but we’re going to wait until the plane touches down before we exhale. Stay tuned to the blog, Twitter, and Facebook. I’ll update you as soon as our travelers arrive home.

What to do if you’re scheduled to travel to Egypt

I told you earlier this week that all Friendly Planet Travel tours to Egypt are temporarily suspended until the situation in Egypt has been resolved and it’s once again safe to travel.

We’ve been working hard to create a number of options for travelers scheduled to travel to Cairo as an extension of another tour or who have booked a tour to Egypt.

For travelers on the Dazzling Dubai tour who opted for the Cairo extension, we’ve been notified by Emirates Airlines of the following options:

1. Travelers on our Dazzling Dubai and Cairo tour can replace the Cairo extension with Kenya or any other extension we can offer without any change fees.

2. At present, we have not concluded other extension possibilities, but we are working on several and will have some great suggestions shortly. Be patient with us while we work on this.

3. Anyone who prefers to cancel the whole trip at this time can do so. Presently, Emirates is waiving cancellation fees through Feb. 28. If the situation continues, they might continue to waive fees beyond Feb. 28. Friendly Planet Travel will not charge any cancellation fees for those who simply wish to cancel. Refunds in full will be granted.

If you’ve booked the Pyramids and Nile Cruise or the Pyramids and Petra tour, please consider the following options below. Once you decide how you’d like to proceed, contact us via e-mail. We need the change in travel plans in writing from you.

1. If you are traveling in February, March, or April and want to move from your scheduled Egypt tour to any other Friendly Planet tour that is available, let us know which tour you want to take. We’ll rebook you. If the tour you want shows “sold out,” please call us at 1-800-555-5765. We’ll make every effort to try and accommodate you, even at the last moment.

2. The amount you paid toward your Egypt tour will be transferred to your new tour. If the cost of the new tour is less, you’ll receive a refund for the overpayment. If the new tour is more, we’ll bill you for the difference.

3. If you are traveling in June or later and you wish to wait and see how the situation in Egypt evolves, you can do so without risk of losing your deposit by cancelling or changing destinations at a later time. Furthermore, your travel insurance is fully transferable to another tour, so you can move the coverage you purchased for the present tour to a future tour without any penalty or disruption in coverage.

4. If you want to cancel your tour, let us know. We will refund your deposits and payments in full. We regret not having you with us at this time, and we hope that you will decide to join us in the future.

If you have any concerns, call 1-800-555-5765 and ask to speak to one of our reservationists. I understand how upsetting it can be to know that the vacation you’ve waited for might have to be rescheduled or relocated somewhere new. But I promise that we will work our hardest to find you something that will be an extraordinary experience.

Bookmark our “protests in Egypt” tag to stay up to date on the latest news coming out of Egypt. I’ll continue to post updates on the blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Egypt protests intensify; Friendly Planet travelers in Egypt to depart on Feb. 3

This post has been updated here.

The protests in Egypt intensified with the news that President Hosni Mubarak will step down from power, but not until the end of his term in September. Supporters of Mubarak and anti-government protesters clashed in Tahrir Square Wednesday over the announcement.

But amid this bad news, I have good news to share. Friendly Planet travelers in Egypt will be leaving Cairo on a nonstop, EgyptAir flight for JFK International Airport on Feb. 3. Until then, Friendly Planet travelers will continue to stay in at Fairmont Towers, Heliopolis.

Below is the e-mail I sent to their emergency contacts last night detailing the decision to book the EgyptAir flight and how they will be accommodated until they depart. We worked 24/7 to make these arrangements for our travelers, and I’m so happy that they’ll be back in U.S. within the next day.

I’ll share more updates with you on the situation in Egypt as they unfold on the blog, Twitter, and Facebook. And stay tuned, I’ll tell you what to do about rescheduling or cancelling an upcoming trip to Egypt in my next blog post.


We would like to update you regarding your family and friends still in Egypt. At present, our group remains at the Fairmont Heliopolis. Early this morning (Cairo time) the group was offered three options for leaving Egypt. The options were:

1. A Viking Cruises-organized charter flight from Cairo to Frankfurt.
2. US Government-organized evacuation flights to Malta, Cyprus, Athens and other European locations.
3. Confirmed space on Thursday, Feb. 3 via EgyptAir non-stop service to JFK.

The group unanimously voted to remain in Cairo until Feb. 3, when they could depart via EgyptAir direct to the USA. The other two options were less attractive to the group due to the unknown costs associated with getting from Europe to the USA. The cost of the Viking charter was $600 per person plus the cost of getting from Frankfurt to the USA, plus hotel and meal expenses if overnight accommodations in Frankfurt were necessary. The cost of the US Government flights is unknown, and as with Frankfurt, the cost of getting from the European cities to the USA plus potential hotel expenses also should be considered.

The EgyptAir appeared to be the best option, as the ticket is already covered by the original EgyptAir ticket from our tour, and the extra nights at the Fairmont hotel are being covered from the refund of services our travelers are due. Thus, if all goes well, you will be seeing your loved ones very soon. And in the meantime, our travelers are comfortable at the Fairmont Hotel, with two provided meals daily as well as their hotel accommodations.

Telephone service remains difficult, although the land lines seem to work better than cell phone service. The internet remains a huge problem. We have not been able to communicate via the internet since it was cut last Thursday.

Our Egypt representatives remain with the group at all times, so they have local assistance if needed.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of any assistance to you. In the meantime, we will continue to update you as we receive more information.

Cordially,

Peggy M. Goldman
President
Friendly Planet Travel

What to do if you or a loved one are still in Egypt

This post has been updated here.

Today, protesters in Egypt are trying to rally a million supporters in Tahrir Square to demand that President Hosni Mubarak step down. Friendly Planet travelers are safe at the Fairmont Towers, Heliopolis near the airport awaiting evacuation on either U.S.-organized evacuation flights or via EgyptAir.

If you’re one of the thousands of travelers in Egypt trying to get out, here are a few things you and your loved ones back home can do to make sure you get out as quickly as possible.

Internet traffic has been disrupted and is practically unavailable within Egypt. So, you’ll have to rely on telephone access. Cell phones are working sporadically, so even though the cost to use your U.S.-based cell phone might be astronomical, go for it anyway. It’s worth the money.

If you don’t have access to a cell phone or yours won’t work, find a land line. You can most likely charge your calls to your major credit card. If you’re calling from a hotel, the hotel will add the cost of the call to your bill. Again, it’ll be very expensive, but worth it.

If a travel agent or tour company booked this trip for you and you have not yet been contacted by them, make sure that you contact them without delay and ask for urgent assistance. They should be working around the clock to get you on a plane out of Egypt.

And if you booked this trip yourself, go to the Cairo airport or get to one of the major tourist hotels in Cairo. The U.S. Department of State will be gathering people from both spots for evacuation flights out of the country.

If you can’t get to the airport or a major tourist hotel, stay put and watch the media on TV or listen to the radio. Definitely don’t wander around outside on your own. The U.S. Department of State will be broadcasting instructions on the evacuation processes through the media in Egypt, including the English-speaking media.

Try your best to contact the U.S. Embassy in Cairo by phone at 1-202-501-4444. If you can’t get through, make an international call to the U.S. Department of State at 1-888-407-4747.

And make sure to enlist the help of your family and friends. Ask them to urgently call their congressperson’s office. The congressional staff will transmit your location in Egypt to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, so when they’re organizing evacuations, the embassy will know where to reach you.

Following these few steps will help you get out of Egypt sooner rather than later. I’ll continue to post updates on the evacuation status of our Friendly Planet travelers and the protests in Egypt. Stay tuned to our blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Egypt update: Friendly Planet travelers awaiting evacuation

This post has been updated here.

When I updated you last night on the situation in Egypt, I told you that the Friendly Planet travelers in Egypt were on the Nile cruise ship en route to Aswan where they would be flown back to the Cairo airport. They flew back to Cairo and are staying at the luxury Fairmont Towers, Heliopolis near the airport awaiting evacuation.

If you have family or friends in Egypt with Friendly Planet Travel and want to get in touch with them, you can reach them at the hotel. Here is the contact information:

Tel: +20 22 267 7730
Fax: +20 22 267 7600
E-mail: heliopolis@fairmont.com

But be patient if you can’t get through right away. Most lines are busy, but if you keep trying you will reach the hotel.

We are working to get everyone on flights out of Egypt, either on U.S.-organized evacuation flights or via EgyptAir, which is once again flying as usual. We are even looking into chartering a plane. Meanwhile, everyone is comfortable at the hotel, still accompanied by bi-lingual staff at all times.

Please be assured that all of us at Friendly Planet Travel, together with everyone at Wings Tours in Egypt, are working 24/7 to maintain the safety of our travelers and to get them home quickly. We will not stop our efforts until every last Friendly Planet traveler has landed in the U.S.

Stay tuned to the blog, Facebook, and Twitter for more updates.

Egypt protests: Updates and photos from a Friendly Planet traveler

This post has been updated here.

As of today, there’s no sign that the protests in Egypt are going to let up. In fact, protesters are calling for a “march of millions” on Tuesday. While we are still not sure how evacuations will proceed, we are hopeful that every Friendly Planet traveler will be out of Egypt today.

One long-time Friendly Planet traveler, Dr. Steven Derfler, just returned from Egypt on Jan. 22. Every January, Dr. Derfler takes a group from the University of Wisconsin on a tour of Egypt, which Friendly Planet Travel has operated for years.

Since Dr. Derfler goes to Egypt so often, he’s made many friends there, including people at the Cairo Museum and members of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Since the protests erupted, he’s been getting updates from his friends.

He sent an e-mail with a few pictures to students and friends that have traveled with him to Egypt in the past. His message contains some updates about the situation in Egypt, including photos. He’s graciously letting us publish his e-mail and photos, but asked that we remove any names of people in Egypt.

I copied and pasted his e-mail and pictures below to give you a first-hand account of what’s going on in Egypt. Thanks Dr. Derfler for letting us share this with our readers. I’ll continue to post updates on the situation in Egypt as soon as I receive more news.


Hello all,

You have all journeyed with me to Egypt over the last couple of years, and I want to give you an update about the situation in Egypt as far as our mutual friends and contacts go. Before internet and cell phone disruption by the government (apparently), the last that I heard on Weds was that [named removed], [name removed] and my boat were all fine and well and staying out of the fray. At that time the situation had not escalated to what we see currently. I have tried to call, email, etc but have not had any luck nor any response. That in itself means nothing given the nature of the communication blackout. I am confident that they are fine and keeping their heads down.

It is a different story regarding the Cairo Museum. Some of you may be aware that the headquarters of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party is next door to the Cairo Museum, fronting Tahrir Square. The HQ was torched and stormed by the crowd. However, the museum remained untouched. This was in part due to the heroism of everyday Egyptians who made a “human chain” around the museum grounds to prevent looting, vandalism and damage. However, all this changed a bit on Friday/Saturday. I did get an email from a colleague and friend within the Supreme Council of Antiquities with some photos (ATTACHED). Apparently, with allegedly the aid of some NDP members, the museum perimeter was breached and some vandals got in to the museum to wreak havoc before being subdued and the museum secured. THEY WERE NOT, I REPEAT, NOT, A PART OF THE NATURE OF THIS REVOLT AGAINST MUBARAK’s GOVT. They were vandals, street thugs and opportunists taking advantage of a possible Baghdad-like situation. There have been rumors to the extent that 2 mummies in the Royal Mummy Room were “beheaded”, but that could not be confirmed by my friend. The museum is secure now, and protected by the military.

In addition, many of the major archaeological sites have been closed and secured by the military as well, including the Giza Complex.

As far as the south goes, there has not been anywhere near the level of civil protest and disruption of life in either Luxor or Aswan. All is well on the Tulip and with the Wings people in those 2 cities. (Last communication, I told my boat to anchor out in the Nile!!!)

So, the extremely fluid situation remains……. fluid. If you have any questions, feel free to “e”.
( maybe they were so sad to see us leave my boat they protested! )

SD

Update on the Friendly Planet travelers in Egypt

This post has been updated here.

We’re continuing to work aggressively to get every Friendly Planet Traveler out of Egypt as soon as possible. As I told you before, everyone is safe and we contacted our travelers’ emergency contacts to let them know this.

Earlier today I sent the letter below to all of the emergency contacts to tell them our plans to get their family and friends back to the U.S. Read on to get the most recent update on the protests in Egypt.

Stay tuned to the blog. I’ll continue to post updates about our travelers and what’s happening in Egypt on the blog, Facebook, and Twitter.


Update about the Friendly Planet group presently in Egypt.

We sent our first update to you on Friday, before we knew the extent to which the situation in Egypt had begun to deteriorate. In fact, when we sent you our first update, we had just been informed by our Egypt reps that our group would not be touring in Cairo due to the demonstrations, but that they were able to drive out to the Pyramids area, and they were, in fact, able to do some sightseeing there. However, what we didn’t know at that time is that the group was subsequently unable to get back to their Cairo hotel due to the situation in the streets. Instead, we took them to a hotel near the Pyramids, which is close to the Cairo airport. Our representatives decided to fly our group to Luxor, about an hour away from Cairo, where it was felt that the situation would be calmer and our group would be safer than in Cairo.

We have been working through the weekend to arrange transportation out of Egypt for your family and friends who are on our Pyramids and Nile Cruise tour. At present, the group remains on the Nile cruise ship and is en route to Aswan, from which they will be flown back to Cairo Airport. We have secured hotel accommodations at an airport hotel, where the group will be protected by security until we are able to get them out on flights back to the USA. Our guide and operational staff in Egypt is accompanying the group at all times. These bilingual professionals are able to assist our passengers in any way they require.

At present, EgyptAir, the carrier for our tour, is working at approximately 25% capacity, due to curfew restrictions, demand and failure of some crew to appear for work. However, the US authorities are arranging for additional aircraft to repatriate American citizens, and our passengers will be at the airport, ready to board the first available flight. Until such time as they are able to leave Egypt, please be assured that we are doing absolutely everything possible to care for them, give them comfort and protect them from harm. They are in comfortable accommodations on the ship and will be at a good hotel once they arrive at Cairo airport. In this way we will keep them from having to struggle, with the hundreds of other travelers, who are now at the airport fighting for flights home.

As we know more, we will let you know as well. Once we have the return flight information, we will update you immediately. In the meantime, if you need information or have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us by email or via our emergency phone service. To call us, dial 800-555-5765 and press #6 for the emergency line. Someone will return your call promptly. You may also try to call your family and friends on their cell phones. Service is very spotty, but some travelers are having luck. Your phone calls will be expensive due to roaming charges, etc., but if you get through, you’ll hear for yourselves that everyone is safe, if anxious to leave Egypt. And who can blame them for that!

Sincerely,

Peggy M. Goldman
President

Egypt protests escalate; Travelers being evacuated

This post has been updated here.

As you know, the political protests in Egypt have not slowed down and the U.S. Department of State has issued a travel alert. All Friendly Planet Travel travelers in Egypt are safe and we have representatives with them at all times. But we are working 24/7 to get them out of Egypt as soon as possible. The demand for flights out of Egypt is high, but the U.S. government is sending planes to Egypt to help get our citizens out of the country more quickly.

In fact, Friendly Planet Travel passengers are all onboard two cruise ships on the Nile River. The ships are not docking at the moment, so travelers are far from any protests. The cruises will dock once we are able to safely get them to the airport and on flights out of the country.

This is a great strategy on the part of our representatives in Egypt, who decided early on to get our travelers to the safety of Luxor and Aswan, where no demonstrations were taking place. Below is a letter I sent to all of our travelers explaining this strategy and what we’re doing to get them home.

Cell phone service has returned to Egypt, although lines are busy. So please be patient if you’re trying to reach family and friends in Egypt. Rest assured, we are working aggressively to make arrangements to get everyone out of Egypt. The safety and security of our travelers is our most important priority, and we will not stop working until each one is home. We expect this to happen in the next day or two.

But again, patience is the goal. We are not the only company with travelers in Egypt who need to get out. Everyone is trying as hard as we are, so please give us the opportunity to work the best way possible.

I will continue to update everyone on the blog, Facebook, and Twitter as we get more information.


Dear Friendly Planet Travelers,

I want to personally let you know that we are doing everything possible to evacuate you from Egypt in the safest and most expedient way possible. We have been working on getting you home from the moment it became clear that it was no longer safe to remain in Egypt. We have been trying to reach you by phone since Friday, but because of the very difficult situation and the lack of cell phone and internet access, the land lines have been choked with traffic. Except for a few lucky instances, we have not been able to speak with you directly. However, please be assured that we’ve been very busy. I would like to update you.

1. You were taken to Luxor anticipating that it would be much safer for you and for no other reason. We wanted to be sure our travelers would be out of harm’s way. Luxor was an extremely good option.

2. We are in contact with your family and friends – these are the emergency contacts you gave us – to keep them updated regarding our efforts, your location and any other details we have managed to obtain. Even if you haven’t spoken to anyone at home during this crisis, we have been in touch. They know you are safe.

3. Please do not assume that since we haven’t spoken by phone, you are being held on the ship because we want you to enjoy a cruise or because you’ve already paid for this portion of your trip. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are on the ship in order to be safe while we make arrangements to fly you home. No other reason.

4. At present, we are trying to arrange for you to fly home on Monday. You were scheduled to fly via EgyptAir, but because of a manpower issue and the huge demand on the available seats, EgyptAir is not able to cope immediately. The US government is planning to begin flights out of Egypt to the USA on Monday, and we are in contact with the Embassy to be sure you are included in these flights. You will depart from Egypt on the first flights that become available to us. If EgyptAir comes through first, you’ll depart via EgyptAir. If the US planes come through first, you’ll fly out that way. The important thing is to be assured that we will get you out.

This message was made possible by sending it to our Egypt reps, Wings Tours & Nile Cruises, by fax. We are hopeful that since there are some land lines available through the various Wings offices, it will be received and then delivered to you directly aboard your Nile cruise ship. We will try to send additional messages if possible. In the meantime, please be sure that we will not stop working for a moment until you are all safely home.

Sincerely,

Peggy

Peggy M. Goldman
President

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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