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
Most operators don't have scheduled tour departures to India
until mid-September at the earliest, with November and December the
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
"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
"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.