NEW YORK -- Italy, Greece and Turkey are feeling the effects of an
anxious American public leery of planning vacations in the vicinity
of the Balkans, most operators and agents specializing in the three
Mediterranean countries said.
Perillo Tours in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., is "off about 15% [to
Italy] between the loss of new bookings and cancellations," Stephen
Perillo, the company's president, said. The cancellations are on
tours that travel throughout Italy, not on programs that visit just
the Adriatic Coast, Perillo said, where U.S. air bases involved in
the NATO air bombing campaign are located.
"If people are afraid for irrational reasons, they're not going
to book the whole country. Some clients have asked us whether their
visit would be marred by the sounds of NATO planes taking off. I
mean, you can't combat perception," said Perillo.
Charles Schmitt, an agent with Free World Travel in New York,
said forward bookings to Europe are down 25% at his agency. "The
inquiry level for Italy right now is next to nil. Most leisure
travelers are holding off on booking Italy. But none already booked
have canceled," he said. "We're at the cusp of when people make the
decisions for summer," Schmitt noted.
Violet Portaro, an agent for All Seasons Travel in New York,
told TW she has three clients who are holding off on booking their
trips to Italy. "They were planning to go to Venice, then drive to
Rome and Naples in July and August."
But she added that other clients are going ahead with their
travel plans. "We have three clients [who left] April 15 for
Trieste. We do advise clients going to this area that they might
hear NATO planes taking off from the base in Aviano, [Italy], which
is between Venice and Trieste." Portaro said forward bookings are a
little slower than last year at this time.
The operators Globus & Cosmos, Maupintour, Tauck Tours and
Tourlite reported declines in the rate of new business to Greece
and Turkey, as well as some cancellations of existing bookings.
A spokeswoman for Lawrence, Kan.-based Maupintour said bookings
have slipped between 5% and 10% compared with the same time last
year. The company has had cancellations for Greece and Turkey
programs, but not at a rate high enough to force the cancellation
of scheduled departures, the spokeswoman said.
At Globus & Cosmos, based in Littleton, Colo., chief
operating officer Phillip Gordon said there have been "a few"
cancellations to Greece and Turkey, and the rate of new bookings
has slowed. "Where possible, we're encouraging people to schedule a
tour later in the season," he said.
Peter Tauck, president of Tauck Tours in Westport, Conn., said
sales of vacation packages to Greece are "relatively flat, with a
few individuals choosing an alternative destination or canceling.
Today, what we're seeing is no new demand, with a net of minus-one
or minus-two bookings a day, which isn't critical," Tauck said.
It's a different story for Valerie Athans, vice president of New
York-based Tourlite, who said advance bookings to Greece are down
20% at her company, compared with the same period last year.
"Unfortunately, Americans appear to be under some misconception
about Greece's location" with respect to the Balkan conflict, she
One operator, Chicago-based TourItalia, is not experiencing the
same cautious attitude from its clients that the other firms
reported. Company president Gino di Nallo said his clients "are not
concerned at all."
"Until the State Department says something, we're telling people
not to worry," he said. Forward bookings for the firm are "even
better than last year," he said, and "Venice is as popular as
A Delta Air Lines spokeswoman said the carrier has had some
calls from concerned travelers "but nothing extreme. We have seen
some spot cancellations of groups to Istanbul, Turkey, and some
into Vienna, Austria, [which] is where we fly into eastern
According to Delta, cruise lines have told the carrier they are
seeing their bookings fall off. A decline in summer cruise bookings
to Europe would impact Delta, the spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives issued
its members an advisory about traveling to the Balkans region, but
reported no major drop in travel to Europe overall. Earl Foster,
president of ACTE and travel manager at Joseph E. Seagram &
Sons Inc., a New York-based spirits company, said his firm is
asking employees who are "flying in harm's way" to discuss the trip
with the Seagram's risk management and corporate security
departments. ACTE, based in Alexandria, Va., represents corporate
travel managers, agents and suppliers.
A spokeswoman for Philadelphia-based mega-agency Rosenbluth
International said the firm has seen "no slippage in terms of
business going to Europe."
David Jones, Linda Humphrey, Jorge Sidron and Dinah A.
Spritzer contributed to this report, which was written by Donna