Safari operators in Africa realised several years ago that there were people who wanted to see the wildlife, but not shake dirt out of a sleeping bag and take a shovel to dig a loo at the end of the day. Now London-based Ancient World Tours, who specialise in ancient sites, is amongst a growing number of companies capitalising on this growing market, and offering camping holidays with a twist of glamour: glamping. I spoke to Managing Director Peter Allingham about the changing face of cultural tourism.
Although the name sounds like something a dodgy pop star would do, glamping(glamour camping)is giving some tour operators the edge in a competitive market. Having gained popularity in parts of Europe, America and Australia, glamping is rapidly becoming a part of a tours itinerary in countries such as Egypt and Jordan.
Innovative operators are actively promoting tours where you can be Indiana Jones during the day, then enjoy a sheiks lifestyle at night. Tours take you to the main sites such as Luxor, but after a day in the desert, hot running water, sit-down flushing toilets, four-poster beds and your own private terrace to watch the sunset are just some of the luxuries on offer when camping in Egypt with London-based Ancient World Tours.
A Big Dose of Arabian Chic
If youre visiting Jordan, Ancient World Tours not only take you to Petra and Jerash, but also offer you a glamp in Wadi Rum. Other tour operators, such as Abercrombie & Kent, claim to make the journey as comfortable as it is enlightening sticking to certain Jordanian traditions like travelling in camel caravans and bedding down in resilient, hand-made Bedouin tents, while making sure guests are taken care of with prepared meals, private toilets, and an inviting atmosphere of Arabian rugs, pillows, and candles.
Luxury travelling in ancient lands isnt exactly a modern phenomenon the pharaohs and high-ranking officials enjoyed a certain amount of opulence as they journeyed around Egypt or indeed, when they were sent off to the afterlife (see some of treats that King Tut had stocked up for the afterlife in this video).
Travel Like a Pharaoh
The difference now is that this style of travel isnt totally elitist. According to Peter Allingham, Managing Director of Ancient World tours, the types of people booking his tours are educated 35 60 year olds with an interest in seeing the country in comfort. “Plus theres modern technology to back you up in the unlikely event of things going wrong; satellite phones, spare tyres and engine parts are now included on the packing list, as well as a few modern health and safety accessories, such as safety belts in vehicles” he adds.
Ancient World Tour glamps in Wadi Rum include proper mattresses, pillows and sufficient space to stand up and store your luggage. “There is a large common tent in Bedouin style with comfortable bolsters and cushions to relax on,” explains Allingham. “In Egypt’s White Desert, we are starting to use our partner’s deluxe camp where there are full-sized beds under larger tents with furniture too”.
Having been a tour leader at the opposite end of the adventure travel scale, a bit of luxury to round off a dusty, tiring day seems very appealing to me. Crawling into a sleeping bag while still encrusted with desert sand or hovering over a hastily-dug hole, acutely aware that sound travels far in the desert night, are not some of the fonder memories of my tour leading days.
An Artificial Experience?
To some hardened explorers, the idea of glamping in places such as Wadi Rum is appalling. Wheres the holistic desert experience, or living like the ancients, when youve got a flush toilet and hot shower? Furthermore, are you really off the beaten track if youve got modern-day luxuries?
There really is something quite magical about escaping modern trappings and getting down to basics. There are no cyberspace viruses or dulcet mobile phone rings to interrupt your thoughts as you contemplate the ancient wonders youve seen that day. The credit crunch suddenly seems insignificant when youve got a full belly and the stillness of the desert gently envelops you with a mantle of unforgiving vastness.
But basics isnt for everyone and off-the-beaten-track places are not as exclusive as they used to be. The adventure travel operators introduced holiday experiences beyond the basic package over 20 years ago, leading tour operators to look for other unique experiences to offer their clients.
Not only do Ancient World Tours offer a degree of luxury and less hardship in down time, but, because of their relationship with the SCA in Egypt,they also give their clients the opportunity of entry to officially closed sites. “Our passengers know that if they want to stand between the paws of theSphinx; enter the tombsof KV5, Amenhotep II & III, Seti or spectacular Nefertari that there are veryfew companies worldwide who can get them there. Our most recent trip included no fewer than 15 special entry permits,” says Allingham. At a time when tombs are being closed to the common tourist over preservation fears, tours like these may be the only chance for travellers to see the incredible tombs of King Tut and the pharaohs.
Ultimately, to survive, tour operators have to look at untapped markets and add new dimensions to classic tour itineraries. The perceived exclusivity and perhaps snobbery of glamping aside, for the paying public, time off is precious and is to be enjoyed. If wearing the little black dress for sunset cocktails on the veranda after a day of learning something new and scrambling round dusty ruins is the preferred choice of holiday, theres now a tour operator offering that exclusive dream getaway.
Of course, the ultimate way to explore ancient Egypt without getting dust in your lens cap or hassled by mosquitos is Heritage Key’s own King Tut Virtual. We don’t offer candles, cushions or a private veranda, but we can certainly offer the thrill of the ancient world, and an excellent chance to dress up.