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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Artful Traveler: Egypt's Time Is Now

There may be no better time to visit Egypt than right now.

Popular attractions such as the Valley of the Kings in Thebes, the Great Pyramids in Giza, and the spectacular Egyptian Museum in Cairo would normally be inundated with thousands of tourists each day. Newspapers here and in the UK report that these and other sites are virtually deserted.

At the same time, some airlines and many hotels have reduced prices to lure back the 1.1 million tourists who left during the revolution.

England and other European nations have lifted travel advisories. Correspondents from the Guardian, The Independent and The Wall St. Journal all say that the country is safe despite the recent upheavals and that tourists are receiving a warm welcome.

Business is business, after all.

When we were in college, we used to get very cheap flights to Africa and the Middle East by booking with British travel agencies and tour operators. To get the best deals today, you should try the same approach. (Use your frequent flier miles to get to London for even greater savings.)

For example, The Independent reports that On the Go Tours has a nine-day cultural tour of the Nile valley for £649 per person. The price includes return flights from Heathrow to Cairo on 29 March, transfers, two nights sailing on the Nile on board a traditional Egyptian felucca (sailing boat), four nights' accommodation in four- and five-star hotels, two nights on a train, breakfast each day and some meals. A local tour guide, with a degree in Egyptology accompanies the trip (+1 (866) 377-6147; www.onthegotours.com).

Hurry and go soon, because travel experts think tourism will bounce back quickly (months, not years as in Yugoslavia, for example).

Read more about Egyptian travel at attractive prices in The Independent, the Guardian, The Wall St. Journal.

For a list of international travel companies offering tours to Egypt, click

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Annals of Luxury: China Poised to Be No. 1 Luxury Market

Rolls Royce will soon sell more cars in China than in any other country.

The PRC already is the car maker's second biggest market after the U.S. (Britain, the United Arab Emirates, and Japan are numbers three, four, and five.)

The Chinese appetite for luxury cars appears insatiable. Sales of BMWs and Mercedes doubled last year. No small wonder, thanks to the rapid rise of the wealthy class in China.

A military parade rolls past a Gucci boutique in Beijing. (Photo: gadgetdan/flickr.com)

Forbes reports that only the U.S. exceeds China in the number of dollar billionaires. There are 130 in the PRC today. Five years ago, there were just a handful.

It's not just the ultra-rich that are thriving. The merely wealthy are doing quite well, too. The past decade saw a 50% annual increase in the number of Chinese millionaires, from 24 in 2000 to 1363 in 2010 – and most of them under 40 years old.

Vuitton boutique in Shanghai
Take a number! Patrons line up for Vuitton's Shanghai boutique

Expensive cars are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the super-charged Chinese luxury market.

Luxury goods companies are expanding rapidly in China to accommodate demand that will account for half of their forecasted global growth in the next 10 years, according to a study by CLSA, a leading Asian brokerage and investment group.

Before that happens, China will have become the world's largest market for luxury goods, surpassing the U.S., Europe, and Japan.

Louis Vuitton’s biggest customers are already Chinese buyers. The French firm operates 32 boutiques in mainland China. Greater China represents 28% of sales for Swatch, 22% for Richemont (owners of the Cartier and Montblanc labels), 18% for Gucci, 14% for Bulgari and 11% for Hermes.

The CLSA report says that "success, wealth and fame/social standing are highly regarded in Chinese culture and displaying this through watches, jewelry, apparel, cars and wine garner respect."

That's news? In some respects at least, it seems that the Chinese are no different than the rest of us.

Read more from the CLSA here.
See photos of Gong-Li and Lang Lang at the opening of Vuitton's Shanghai boutique here.