NEW YORK -- The Kosovo crisis has led to deep discounting in the
Mediterranean cruise market as some major lines slashed fares by
20%, 30% -- even 60% -- while others sweetened the deal with
two-for-one offers and assorted upgrades.
The line that appears to have been hardest hit by the conflict
is Royal Olympic. As reported, the Greek line canceled 13 Greek
Isles sailings from Athens this summer, citing sluggish demand.
Despite optimism that the war is nearing an end, Royal unveiled
a promotion on seven-night sailings from Piraeus, the port for
Athens, that includes air and hotel priced at 30% off brochure
Crystal Cruises is offering a promotional fare on the Crystal
Symphony of up to 61% off brochure rates on three Mediterranean
sailings in September.
Costa, the leading cruise line in Europe, extended its early
booking discounts, which offer up to 20% off, so that they apply to
dates throughout the summer (the discounts are typically offered
only up to 90 days in advance).
The line also extended to additional sailings its offer of two
complimentary post-cruise hotel nights.
Windstar Cruises' Wind Surf is offering a two-for-one rate on
most sailings through Oct. 23. The vessel operates weekly cruises
between Venice and Rome, Italy. The line is also offering 30%
discounts on most sailings of the Wind Song and Wind Spirit in the
Greek Isles through Oct. 16.
Orient Lines extended its early-booking discounts of 10%
(normally available only up to 120 days before a sailing) for the
summer Europe season. Seabourn Cruise Line extended its offer of
savings of up to $1,000 per couple for first-time guests and a 20%
discount to Seabourn Club Members on Riviera, Black Sea and Greek
Cunard Line is offering 50% off the rate for a second guest on
select Europe cruises aboard the Vistafjord and Sea Goddess I and
II. Also available is a reduced rate of up to 60% off regular fares
on select sailings in June aboard the Royal Viking Sun. Royal
Caribbean cut rates in half on most European sailings for the
Legend of the Seas and Splendour of the Seas this summer.
Whether or not the public will take advantage of the heavy
discounting is still a question mark to at least one retailer.
Russell Gelfuso, co-owner of the Cruise Brothers here, said his
firm is in the midst of an e-mail promotion that highlights the
Mediterranean discounts. The promotion is targeting clients who had
expressed interest in going to the Mediterranean but haven't booked
because of the Kosovo crisis, Gelfuso said.
"The thinking is that many people who weren't willing to buy a
$3,500 sailing will be a buyer at $2,200. These are absolutely
substantial discounts, but what remains to be seen is the public's
perception," he said.
The reductions appear to be limited to the cruise industry so
far, as airlines, hotels and tour operators have introduced little
or no discounting. "No matter how much you lower the price, this
doesn't make people feel the area is safe. So what's the point of
discounting?" said Andras Bolgar, president of Los Angeles-based
Tradesco Tours, a Hungary specialist.
Bob Drumm, president of General Tours in Keene, N.H., agreed,
but he said his firm is doing some spot sales on its Web site, generaltours.com, for destinations that have shown
only slight decreases since the war began.
A five-night package to Prague, Czech Republic, for example, was
offered at $699 with air, accommodations, breakfasts and
sightseeing. The price represents a $200 reduction off the brochure
Several operators to Greece reported that bookings have risen in
the past few weeks. Business had declined for some firms after the
start of the NATO air campaign, and the situation worsened when
anti-NATO protests were held in Greece and the Athenaeum
Inter-Continental Athens hotel was bombed on April 27.
Nick Athans, president of New York-based Tourlite, said sales
were up 5% over the same period last year and that island-hopping
packages were the best sellers.
According to John Peters, president of Zeustours, the firm's
yacht cruises are up 20% over last year. Discounted packages that
include a Royal Olympic sailing, however, are available from
Tourlite and Homeric Tours, also in New York.
A six-night Tourlite package, priced from $999, includes air,
three nights in Athens and a three-day Greek Isles cruise.
Homeric's seven-night Greek Island package, with three nights in
Athens and a four-day cruise, is being offered from $1,199. The
original price was $1,759,
Major hotel chains such as Starwood and Inter-Continental had no
special discounts in place in the Mediterranean or eastern
Gilbert Gjersvik and Grant Flowers contributed to this