Thomson tells its passengers: don't get off at Port Said
British tourists are warned to stay clear of the Med's 'worst' destination. But is it really that bad?
Simon Calder is Travel Editor at Large for The Independent, writing a weekly column, various articles and features as well as filming a weekly video diary. Every Sunday afternoon, Simon presents the UK's only radio travel phone-in programme called The LBC Travel Show with Simon Calder (97.3 FM). He is a regular guest on national TV, often seen on BBC Breakfast, Daybreak, ITV News and Sky News. He is often interviewed on BBC Radio, particularly for BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme and BBC Five Live.
Monday 16 April 2012
Britain's biggest holiday company, Thomson, has identified Port Said, at the head of the Suez Canal, as the one Mediterranean destination with no redeeming features.
While the giant tour operator promises that Benidorm in Spain "offers up everything you could possibly need for a beach break" and the Cypriot resort of Ayia Napa is "a buzzing party paradise", the firm bluntly tells its customers "there are no sights to see" in the 19th-century port and beach resort that is Egypt's third city.
Passengers on Thomson cruise ships calling at Port Said are urged not to venture ashore unless they are going on an excursion to Cairo and the Pyramids. The company warns local public transport is "infrequent and unreliable".
Millions of Egyptians depend on tourism for a living. Since the political uprising in Egypt began 15 months ago, visitor numbers have plummeted. The British have proved the most resilient nationality, but even so, a third fewer UK holidaymakers visited the country last year than in 2010.
Thomson says one of its corporate aims is to "make measurable improvements to local livelihoods" at the destinations it serves.
But before calling at Port Said, the firm distributes information sheets advising that passengers should not explore the city and pump money into the economy: "We highly recommend if you're not going on tour that you enjoy the facilities on board," it says.
While the city lacks the antiquities found elsewhere in the country, the Lonely Planet guide says: "Port Said exudes a prosperous and bustling air, particularly its historic waterfront of late-19th-century colonial buildings."
Omayma El Husseini, director of the Egyptian State Tourist Office in London, told The Independent that Port Said had plenty to fill a day: "You could explore the souk, stroll by the canal and take the ferry across it, and then have a seafood dinner," he said.
According to Thomson Cruises, its advice stems from reports by previous passengers.
A spokeswoman said: "Port Said is an industrial port, with customers telling us there is not much to see and do."
Two Thomson cruise passengers, both teachers from Nottingham, ignored the advice when they visited the city last week.
Rita Pennant said: "Port Said has atmosphere, colour, vibrancy, beautiful buildings and less hassle, and is a good place to experience everyday life in a different culture."
Her travelling companion, Jill Hughes, added: "The ferry across the Suez Canal was well organised and really worthwhile."
Andrew Henderson, operations manager for On the Go Tours, lived in Egypt for two years.
He said: "There's a bit for everyone. It will blow you away. There are huge ships and shops. Ladies can shop and the boys can stare at the boats."
But Thomson has no intention of changing its policy.
The company's spokeswoman said: "This recommendation is based on customer feedback and our experience in operating to Port Said for a number of years."
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