India tourism a casualty of region's tensions By Laura Del Rosso / June 04, 2002 Share 1 -- SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. State Department's warning to Americans to leave India sent a chill through U.S. tour operators. Those operators that have India programs lined up for the fall and winter -- the peak season for U.S. leisure travelers -- say bookings have come to a complete halt.That's on top of what was an already grim booking season."India has been dead since the bombing in Afghanistan," said Nadia LeBon, operations director for Mountain Travel Sobek, an adventure travel specialist in El Cerrito, Calif.If there is any good news it is that the rising tensions between India and Pakistan come during a slow period for tourism to India so operators have not had to deal with canceling tours just before departure.Most operators don't have scheduled tour departures to India until mid-September at the earliest, with November and December the peak season.With the general trend toward clients waiting later and later to book trips, operators are holding out hope that bookings for peak-season trips will start again in the late summer or early fall -- that is, if tensions between India and Pakistan subside.Yet clearly there is trepidation about the destination."It's too early to tell how bookings will be for our trips, which are in November and December, but I'm not expecting a good season," said LeBon.At Adventure Center, a Far and Wide-owned operator based in Emeryville, Calif., bookings to India were weak even before the U.S. government issued its warning, said Trevor Saxty, sales manager."Because of its proximity to Afghanistan and Pakistan, it has not been a great year for India."Compounding the problem for tour operators specializing in the region is the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, which has led to disappointing sales in trekking tours as all but the most ardent of trekkers is steering clear of that country as well, said Saxty.Abercrombie & Kent's first India tour is scheduled to depart in September, the first of 10 departures scheduled for the fall, said a company spokeswoman."We have people booked on the tours," and they bookings were holding, she said."There is a trend for late bookings, so people are waiting and seeing what the situation is before booking or canceling."Perhaps helping operators is the type of traveler drawn to India."People who travel to India tend to be more adventurous travelers" and not as easily put off by safety concerns as the general population, she said.In fact, a group of A&K travelers -- members of its Marco Polo Club -- returned from India recently and raved about the trip in a bulletin to fellow club members.One tour operator that did have trips planned through the summer months said he was forced to cancel departures through July after the government warning to leave India."We just hope that things cool off and all the saber-rattling that is going on stops," said Abdul Tapa, managing director of Himalayan Tours, New York. "Right now, we still have people booked for travel in August. We'll just have to wait and see what happens [before canceling those departures]."The company recently hosted a fam trip for travel agents, who returned home May 29 "after having an excellent time," he said.Himalayan Tours offers other destinations, including Thailand and Hong Kong, which are being viewed as alternative destinations to India and Nepal, Tapa said."Those countries are keeping us going," said Tapa.