'Last chance' marketing spurs Yangtze demand

NEW YORK -- Demand for Yangtze River cruises has never been higher, and operators probably have the construction of the Three Gorges Dam to thank.

Preparation for the dam's last stage of construction will take place in the fall, making this the final opportunity visitors will have to see the Yangtze River and the Three Gorges as they have thrilled visitors for millennia.

"All of [the construction] has contributed to a sense of urgency about seeing the Yangtze now," said Gerry Kerr, director of marketing at Pacific Delight Tours here. "In recent years, the Yangtze [river cruise] has been our most popular trip to China and this year, it is even more so."

A handful of cruise operators, including Regal China Cruises, Victoria Cruises and the China-based East Queen West Queen, supply most tour operators in the U.S., and they said they are concerned that this "last chance" marketing ploy is being taken too far.

"There are changes taking place," said Jeanne Dalton, director of marketing and sales at Regal China Cruises, "but we are trying to dispel they idea that it is all going to go away. It's not true."

When completed, the dam will create a reservoir that extends nearly 400 miles upstream, covering hundreds of towns and even some of the lower peaks of the Three Gorges.

The approaching change in its landscape has spurred a rush to see the Yangtze River and the Three Gorges, much to the delight of cruise operators, such as Regal China Cruises, above. According to Dalton, the Three Gorges ranges from 300 to 3,000 feet, so "some of the smaller peaks will be submerged, but the majesty will remain," Dalton said, noting that Three Gorges Reservoir might end up being as spectacular as the area is now.

"The dam is in itself an attraction," she said. "It's the largest project of its kind in the world."

Most cruise passengers take motorcoach tours to the top of the dam and spend several hours around the site.

"It's one of those 'Wonder-of-the-World' projects," said a spokesman for Pacific Delight Tours. "You really need a 'before-and-after' tour. You will lose some aspects of the scenery, but you also will be able to go places you never could before."

In November, ships sailing on the Yangtze will be rerouted through temporary locks. By next summer, the third phase of construction will have begun and water will begin rising about 15 feet a day.

From June 1 to June 15, 2003, there will be no river cruises. After that, the water level will have risen, a permanent lock will be in operation and cruises will resume.

The construction project, which has drawn its share of criticism from environmental groups worldwide, is necessary to tame some of the river's deadliest floods, according to Chinese officials.

When the project is complete, it will be the largest hydroelectric dam ever built, according to the Chinese government, supplying the electricity needs of one-ninth of China's population of 2 billion.

Book it: Yangtze Cruise tour operators

Abercrombie & Kent
Phone: (800) 323-7308

Absolute Asia
Phone: (800) 736-8187

Asia Transpacific Journeys
Phone: (800) 642-2742

Gate 1
Phone: (800) 682-3333

General Tours
Phone: (800) 223-0266

Japan & Orient Tours
Phone: (800) 377-1080

Pacific Bestour
Phone: (800) 688-3288

Pacific Delight Tours
Phone: (800) 221-7179

Pleasant Holidays
Phone: (800) 742-9244

Ritz Tours
Phone: (800) 900-2446

Tauck World Discovery
Phone: (800) 468-2825

Phone: (800) 733-7820

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