Egypt Welcomes Volcano-Stranded Tourists
By Charlene Gubash, NBC News Producer
Egyptâ€™s Ministry of Tourism is determined to keep the good times rolling for stranded visitors. Although hotels are overbooked by 7 percent in the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada and well over 80 percent in Sharm El Sheikh, hotel owners have been ordered not to expel guests who have overstayed their reservations.
Tour companies must continue to foot the bill for tour groups who overstay and if lodgers are traveling solo, hotels are obliged to offer them low rates. If travelers are in financial trouble, they have been advised to contact their embassies.
Stranded Europeans are taking full advantage.
â€œThe travel agent, they pay all for us, room, food, drinks, everything,â€ said Ulf Daahlbom of Gothenburg Sweden. He took a five hour taxi ride from Hurghada to take in the sites in Cairo. â€œIt was beautiful here. I have been at the Pyramids and the Egyptian museum.â€
Two engineers from Ireland and Scotland couldnâ€™t conceal their smiles as they sat in the shade of a tree after a day in 100 degree heat at the Pyramids and Egyptian Museum. They had been on their way back home from work in the Suez Canal zone when they were obliged to take an all-expense paid vacation.
Charlotte Krum, a stewardess for Scandinavian Air, has nothing to go back for since her airline has been grounded. She and her husband and four children were on a Red Sea get-away when spewing volcanic ash extended their stay. â€œItâ€™s nice for us to have the opportunity to show them [the children] all the sites in Cairo,â€ she said. â€œWe just came from the Pyramids and now we go to the museum. We are trying to make the best out of it.â€
Krum and her family came to Cairo to try and get a flight to Greece, but seemed in no hurry. Travelerâ€™s insurance covered the first four days of their stay. â€œEverything has been working out quite well. We have some nice rooms here.â€
Egypt jealously protects its biggest money earner: tourism. About 12 million tourists, at least 65 percent of them from Europe, bring in about 11 billion dollars a year and 12.6 percent of the workforce lives off of tourism. All guests are welcome, even those who overstay.
While many hotels over overbooked, EgyptAir and other regional carriers sit idle on the tarmac. They are suffering to the tune of 250 million dollars a day. Before noon on Monday, more than 16 planes were grounded on Cairoâ€™s tarmacs.
But in Egyptâ€™s airports, you wonâ€™t find hapless visitors trying to catch some sleep on makeshift bedrolls, or slumped in plastic chairs. Tour guides are under strict orders not to drop anyone off at the airport until they have confirmed their flights.