Egypt

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Egypt’s transition from authoritarian pseudo-democracy to full democratic state has not been smooth. 2012’s elections, though, may herald a new dawn for this most historic of North African Arab countries. That is, if peace can prevail. Background The most populous of Arab countries, Egypt has a history dating back over 7000 years. Contemporary Egypt defined its importance by heralding the birth of the Arab Spring with the uprising against pro-West leader Hosni Mubarak. The former leader’s iron rule held together a coalition of opposing forces, until he was deposed in 2011. Economic reforms stalled in the wake of the uprisings, with large investments in communications and physical infrastructure on the back burner. But there was hope of stability returning following the 2012 election victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi. That, however, has yet to transpire. Despite this, the sheer size of the market and the relative freedom of doing business, make Egypt an African powerhouse and seductive to development entrepreneurs. Business Travel Activity With the Middle East’s premier airlines showing increased interest in the African continent, it was no surprise when April saw Etihad Airways boost its flights to Egypt. The four additional services means the carrier now operates 18 flights a week to Cairo. Not to be outdone, May saw Egypt’s national carrier celebrate its 80th birthday. EGYPTAIR was the first airline in the Middle East, Africa and the Arab Region, and only seventh in the world when it was established in 1932. It’s now a Star Alliance member with a fleet of 79 aircraft and 76 destinations in 62 countries around the world. On the hotel front, there has been some development activity, with the W Hospitality Group reporting that 19 hotels, covering 5,923 rooms, were already in development in Egypt in 2012. In terms of announcements, though, Hilton was able to make a bit of a splash, with the August news that the group is to introduce two new properties to Cairo and Alexandria. Hilton Giza Pyramids will command panoramic views of Egypt’s greatest tourist attractions, including the world famous heritage sites of the Pyramids and the Sphinx. The hotel’s 390 rooms include 18 suites and the property is expected to open in 2016. Hilton Alexandria King’s Ranch Resort is located close to the recently expanded Borg Al Arab International Airport in Egypt’s second-largest city, and is expected to open at the end of 2013. Airport Cairo is Egypt’s capital city and main economic hub, the central base for most of the commerce and home to some 18 million people. Its trendiest suburb and area of choice for much of the expat community is Maadi, which is leafy and cool. Alexandria and Port Said, both on the Mediterranean, are important ports for Europe. Aswan is the hub of the upper Nile communities and Suez the focus for the canal linking Europe with the East. Cairo’s airport at Heliopolis is 22 kilometres from the city centre, and is the second busiest airport in Africa, after O.R. Tambo International in Johannesburg. Major construction work will turn Terminal 2 into a world class hub by 2013. Once completed, the renovated terminal will be operated jointly with Terminal 3 as one integrated terminal, thus, reinforcing the role of Cairo International Airport as a regional hub. Until then, Terminal 1 (called ‘the old airport’) and relatively new Terminal 3 are the centres of operation. International flights arrive at both terminals. Transport between the two is every 30 minutes by free shuttle. Transport to the city is best done by airport shuttle. A third line of the Cairo Metro will eventually link the city with the airport. “It’s a world class airport,” says Mark Brotherton, Senior Consultant for MDA Property Systems. “There’s good signage throughout the airport, so it’s very easy to find your way around. There are plenty of taxis available on arrival, but make sure you have some background on distance to cover and guideline price to pay, as this is the beginning of some serious negotiating on your trip! Otherwise, get someone to pick you up.” “Cairo’s new Terminal 3 is a wonderful addition to Cairo’s airport,” says Marc de Jager, Global Alliance Manager for Travel With Flair. “However, luggage takes an extremely long time to be delivered on carousels, and when checking in late at night for the Johannesburg flight, the airport is hectic, so make sure you allow enough time.” “The resorts of Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada, as well as the city of Luxor, have airports with VIP facilities, as well as some international branded hotels with meeting facilities, which attract many of the corporate meetings,” says Chris Schuitmaker, Manager: Regional Business & Partner Management Africa for HRG Rennies. Visas Although visas can be obtained at your point of entry, passport holders from all African countries are required to have visas prior to arrival in Egypt. Consult the Egyptian embassy or consulate in your country. Connectivity Egypt’s communications are good – and were ironically instrumental in the success of the uprising a couple of years ago. Mubarak rolled out his ‘every household will have an Internet-linked computer’ in 2008. Internet penetration has risen sharply since 2000 from 1% to an estimated 35% in 2011. Cell phone penetration is excellent, though still growing rapidly, and roaming services are available. Hotels There is no shortage of big international hotel brands in Cairo, including Hilton (four properties and a Conrad, with one of those Hilton properties becoming a Ritz Carlton in 2013), Fairmont, Four Seasons, InterContinental, Kempinski, Marriott and Radisson Blu. So, you really do have your pick of a host of 5-star hotels, along with the local boutique properties. For business in the Heliopolis area, a 10 – 15 minute drive from the airport, Schuitmaker recommends the InterContinental City Stars, the Holiday Inn City Stars, the Fairmont Heliopolis, Fairmont Towers, Sonesta Cairo and the JW Marriott. “Most of the meetings and conventions take place in those hotels due to the wide meeting facilities they offer,” says Schuitmaker. “Besides, they are all close to CICC (Cairo International Conference Center). “If you’re talking the down town area – approximately 30 to 45 minutes’ drive from the airport – I would recommend the Four Seasons Nile Plaza, the Cairo Marriott & Casino, the Sofitel El Gezira, the Fairmont Nile City and the Conrad Cairo. These hotels offer similar meeting facilities.” “The Four Seasons in Cairo is an absolute winner,” says De Jager. “It is truly a 5-star, deluxe hotel, and some rooms have views in the distance of the pyramids. The zoo is just across the road, but, as always in Cairo, the hooting of cars is a given, as is the traffic.” Travel Tips Safety Egypt is still a country in transition with all the associated risks. However, it is also a sophisticated society and no more than normal care needs to be taken. Money The Egyptian pound is legal tender, and unlike much of the rest of Africa, US dollars are not accepted in shops, so change money on arrival. Getting Around The better option is the underground and overland Cairo Metro, a full rapid transit system that sports a tunnel under the Nile. There are two lines that link most important areas, and a third being built. All Metro trains reserve the middle two cars for women and the back car for mixed use after 21h00. Health Drink bottled water and be aware of street food. The country has some of the continent’s best hospitals, but insurance is essential. The Experience “Taxis are readily available, but organising a driver is easiest,” says Brotherton. “Do not even consider driving yourself, unless you are up for an adrenalin rush outside the boardroom! It’s a vast city and the traffic is usually shocking, so give yourself ample time to get to and from meetings. The people are very friendly and the majority speak excellent English.” Contacts Website: egypt.travel Fact File Capital: Cairo Population: 82 million Time zone: GMT+2 Plugs: Two-pin round Dialing code: +20 Currency: Egyptian Pound. Exchange rate: US$1=6.1EGP Language: Arabic, French and English Air Travel Aeroflot – aeroflot.ru Air France – airfrance.com Austrian Airlines – austrian.com BA – ba.com Brussels Airline – brusselsairline.com Condor – condor.com Delta Air Lines – delta.com EGYPTAIR – egyptair.com (see review here) Ethiopian Airlines – flyethiopian.com Etihad Airways – etihadairways.com Gulf Air – gulfair.com Iberia – iberia.com Kenya Airways – kenya-airways.com KLM – klm.com Lufthansa – lufthansa.com Meridiana – meridiana.it Oman Air – omanair.com Qatar Airways – qatarairways.com Royal Air Maroc – royalairmaroc.com SAA – flysaa.com Singapore Airlines – singaporeair.com Swiss – swiss.com TAP Portugal – flytap.com Tuifly – tuifly.com Tunisair – tunisair.com Hotels Cairo Marriott & Casino – marriott.com Conrad Cairo – hilton.com Dusit Thani Lakeview – dusit.com Fairmont Heliopolis – fairmont.com Fairmont Nile City – fairmont.com Fairmont Towers – fairmont.com Four Seasons First Residence – fourseasons.com Four Seasons Nile Plaza – fourseasons.com Grand Nile Tower – grandniletower.com Hilton – hilton.com Holiday Inn Citystars – holidayinn.com InterContinental Cairo – ichotelsgroup.com InterContinental Citystars – ichotelsgroup.com JW Marriott – marriott.com Kempinski Nile – kempinski.com Le Meridien Heliopolis – starwoodhotels.com Novotel – accorhotels.com Radisson Blu Cairo – radissonblu.com Safir Cairo – safirhotels.com Sonesta Cairo – sonesta.com Sofitel El Gezira – sofitel.com Sofitel Maadi – sofitel.com Car Rental Avis – avis.com Budget – budget.com Europcar – europcar.com Hertz – hertz.com Sixt – sixt.com TMC Access to Africa – access-to-africa.com BCD Travel – bcdtravel.com Club Travel – clubcorporatetravel.co.za FCm Travel – fcm.travel HRG – hrgworldwide.com
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