Some travelers are extremely nervous. Some are keeping their journeys closer to home. And some are canceling altogether. But travel businesses said last week there has been no...
Some travelers are extremely nervous. Some are keeping their journeys closer to home. And some are canceling altogether.
But travel businesses said last week there has been no wholesale bailing out of already-booked trips.
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That could change in an instant, but for now, Americans mostly are watching and waiting.
“They’re deciding to hold off and see,” said Amy Ziff, a commentator for Travelocity, an online booking site.
Travelers are most concerned about trips to Europe, particularly Turkey, and Asia, and less concerned about domestic travel, said travel agents.
Carlson Wagonlit Travel, one of the major U.S. travel agencies, has had greater-than-normal cancellations and soft bookings, polls of its agents found. Yet while overall bookings are definitely off, company spokesman Steve Loucks said “it is nowhere near as dire as the situation was with the previous Gulf War.”
The difference, he said, “is people remember the experience 12 years ago (during the Gulf War), that there were no serious reprisals against Americans as travelers.
“And there are greatly liberalized cancellation policies among air carriers, cruise lines, tour operators and other suppliers and that has helped mitigate early cancellations,” he said.
Business bookings decline
Business travelers also aren’t committing to trips. Rosenbluth International Travel Management, a corporate travel agent, has seen bookings fall off by about 10 percent as of midweek from the week before, said Keith Jackson, vice president of finance and business operations.
Jackson said, though, he does not expect reservations to decline this time as much as they did right after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the three weeks after Sept. 11, some of Rosenbluth’s clients cut travel by 50 percent
“But if there’s a terrorist attack on our shores, you’ll probably see a greater, more rapid reduction,” Jackson said.
Most major U.S. airlines have introduced new flexible ticket policies to encourage customers to go forward with travel plans. The policies allow passengers to make changes to tickets without fees or even cancel trips and use the credit toward future tickets.
Such policies, combined with low airfares, have helped offset hesitation about making reservations, said Terri Shank, a spokeswoman for Orbitz, a booking agency run by major U.S. airlines.
In fact, some travel agents say now is the time to book trips, while prices are low and there are greatly reduced restrictions on cancellations.
Other travel businesses are nervously awaiting the impacts of war. Bob Diener, president of Hotels.com, said his company has not seen hotel cancellations rise but has noticed an increase in last-minute bookings and in the number of people who drive to hotels as opposed to fly.
Walt Disney Co. also has said the window for booking reservations at its theme parks has narrowed in recent months as people delay making travel arrangements until the last minute.
U.S. and foreign airlines already have cut trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights and ceased flying in much of the Mideast.
In Europe, tourism businesses are expecting a sharp downturn, but hoping it will be short.
Tourism and leisure is a huge business in Europe. In Germany, it accounts for about eight percent of economic output and employs 2.8 million people, while in Britain the sector turns over almost $126.5 billion a year.
Much of this money finds its way into the continent’s myriad small hotels, restaurants and leisure facilities, so its exact impact on the economy is hard to quantify.
Is setback looming?
But players large and small fear a setback in a recovery that was beginning to drag the industry out of the doldrums that followed Sept. 11 attacks.
Michael Frenzel, the head of Germany’s TUI AG, Europe’s largest travel agency, said recently that customers were holding off on ticket purchases because of uncertainty about the Iraq war.
In Paris, American tourists are growing scarcer, a situation compounded by disputes between the U.S. and French governments over Iraq.