Despite State Warnings, Operators Report Little Impact


NEW YORK-Despite a State Department warning against travel to Kenya and Tanzania in the wake of last week's bombing of the U.S. embassies there, major tour operators report little impact on their business over the weekend.

Late Friday the State Department issued statements on both countries, warning U.S. citizens against travel there, and urging them "to limit travel within the country and to exercise caution." (State Dept. Warnings for Kenya and Tanzania.)

"We haven't had a single cancellation," said Dennis Pinto, managing director of Micato Safaris in New York. "Our financial losses at this point are zero."

Pinto said the company kept its office open all weekend. Staffers called every client booked to travel in the next few months, filling them in on the situation and the State Department's travel advisory, and offering full refunds if they chose to cancel. The company also sent letters about the situation by fax or courier to clients' travel agents.

Micato had several groups in East Africa at the time of the explosions, including some in Nairobi, and gave them all the opportunity to cut short their trips and return home, but "no one took us up on that offer," Pinto said.

Pinto said he polled his staff after their weekend of one-on-one discussions with clients, and they reported "a tremendous sense of 'we're still going.'" He added, "People seemed to feel that this was an event that had nothing to do with Kenya," and thus saw no future threat to Americans traveling there.

The U.S. Embassy bombing won't require any changes in Micato's programs, he said--not even in the Nairobi portion of tours."The Embassy is on the other side of town from the major hotels we're using," he said. "And on a normal city sightseeing route, I don't think anyone goes past the Embassy."

Abercrombie & Kent also offered customers currently in East Africa the chance to come back early, and none of the 214 clients who are there chose to do so, said company spokeswoman Christa Brantsch.

She said that since the bombings, A&K has received "a tremendous amount of call volume" from customers and agents, and by the end of Monday, "about 10% of our clients to Kenya and Tanzania have canceled," she said.

Marj Abbott, an Africa specialist at Safaricentre International in Manhattan Beach, Calif., said, "We've had more clients than normal calling with questions, but we've had no cancellations." She said that most clients seemed to understand that the terrorist incidents were "localized" in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, directed solely at the embassies there, "and that when they're out on safari, they're not in any danger."

The parties who seem to be most worried, Abbott said, are the local ground operators that the company works with in Africa. "I think they're very concerned that business will decline because of the advisory, and their economy can't really handle that right now," she said.

Noel D'Souza, general manager of Wildlife Safari in Moraga, Calif., said there's a chance that new bookings could slow down as a result of the State Department's travel warnings, but his company has seen no cancellations as a result of the advisories or the bombings. One couple, however, did change their tour from east to southern Africa, he noted. The company also asked clients currently in Africa if they wanted to return early, and none did, he added.

Wildlife Safari made efforts to contact all booked clients and their travel agents and reassured them that "security isn't really an issue," D'Souza said. She noted that company CEO Trevor Fernandes is over there now, and is calling in with daily updates on the situation. "The destination is secure," he said. "One incident doesn't mean there are bombs blowing up all over." He added that some clients who said they would maintain their existing arrangements have commented that "if we give in and cancel, the terrorists have won."

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