Agents react to hotel bomb in Athens

NEW YORK -- The bombing of the Athenaeum Inter-Continental Athens hotel by a group protesting NATO's air campaign in the Balkans appears to be the first Kosovo-related attack on tourism.

The April 27 bombing of the hotel killed a woman and injured a man, both Greek citizens, Athens police said.

A leftist group that claimed responsibility sent a letter to an Athens newspaper saying that the bombing was "an answer to NATO's raid in the Balkans."

Athens police said the device, a time bomb, was placed at one of the hotel's entrances and exploded while the hotel was being evacuated after an anonymous caller phoned in a warning. The caller identified himself as a member of the leftist group Revolutionary Nucleus.

Part of the hotel's ground floor suffered substantial damage, but a statement from Inter-Continental April 28 said the property was "open and fully operational." Inter-Continental said the bomb exploded on a street adjacent to a garden area outside of the 543-room property.

Following the attack, anonymous hoax calls claimed that more bombs were set to go off at other hotels, including the Athens Hilton, which was evacuated. A spokesman for Princess Cruises said 40 of the line's passengers staying at the Hilton that night were routed from their beds and evacuated from the property.

The line's Pacific Princess had arrived in Piraeus, the port for Athens, on the day of the bomb attack. "We are satisfied that the call was a hoax, pure and simple," a spokesman at Hilton's Beverly Hills, Calif., headquarters said.

Rick James, Princess Cruises' senior vice president, said the cruise line uses "practically all of the major Athens hotels -- including the Inter-Continental and the Hilton -- at one time or another, depending on demand."

The line's Royal Princess is due to end one voyage and begin another in Piraeus this week, and James said there were no immediate plans to adjust the ship's itinerary. "We will be guided by what [our] government security people tell us. We feel very confident that our passengers and our ships are safe," James added.

Silversea Cruises executives said they were meeting to decide what to do with 10 cruises scheduled to turn around in Athens this year. The Silver Cloud is the first of the line's luxury ships to be affected, with a cruise termination there May 4, followed by nine others, all on the Silver Wind, between May and early November.

Renaissance Cruises switched passengers booked at the Inter-Continental to other Athens properties, according to a Renaissance reservations agent. The line operates the 800-passenger R1 from Piraeus for Greek Island cruises yearround, with land packages featuring two or three nights each in Athens and Istanbul, Turkey.

A spokesman at the Greek National Tourist Office in New York would say only that tourist authorities were considering the attack an isolated incident.

But one New York travel agency's corporate client decided not to bank on that. Marie Magliano, owner of Uniglobe At Best Travel, told Travel Weekly she had about 40 clients from her largest corporate account set to attend the company's global meeting in Athens.

The meeting was to begin May 3 at the Inter-Continental, but the company decided to move the meeting to Paris, Magliano said. "It's scary to think about," the agent said. "And a lot of those travelers were bringing wives and families to Athens with them. I wouldn't travel in that part of the world right now," Magliano added.

Chris Myers, owner of Houston-based Tickets & Tours, said he expects travelers, particularly leisure clients, to steer clear of the area for a while. "Like it or not, the fact is we have a war going on and that is going to greatly affect travel to not only Greece, but Europe as well," Myers said.

Major tour operators to Greece, including the New York-based firms Tourlite International and Zeus Tours, reported no cancellations as a result of the hotel bombing.

However, Cally Pantelldis, president of Cloud Tours in New York, said two clients who were already booked called her office with concerns. "So that they would be more comfortable, we suggested that they skip their two nights in Athens and go straight to the islands, and that is what they are doing," she said.

Pantelldis agreed with other tour operators to Greece that overall business is slower due to NATO's military actions.

Ernest Blum, Jerry Brown, Grant Flowers, Carla Hunt, Joseph Kornik and Dinah A. Spritzer contributed to this report, which was written by Donna Tunney.

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