Italy operators shrug off Kosovo, offer summer deals

NEW YORK -- Spring is high season in Italy, and this year is no exception, notwithstanding the conflict in Kosovo, according to tourism officials.

For the most part, deals are only available to clients willing to wait until summer, particularly July and August.

One exception Travel Weekly found is a new Italiatour fly-drive package from Alitalia's soon-to-be-opened San Francisco gateway. The package, which must be ticketed by June 14, includes roundtrip air fare to Rome, Milan, Naples or a number of other cities in Italy. Also included are a car rental for seven days with unlimited mileage, 19% VAT and insurance. The rate is $829 per person from June 3 through 14 and from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31.

The price rises to $1,039 from June 15 to Aug. 31. Add $120 per person for bookings ticketed after June 14.

The special was designed to promote the gateway, set to open June 13, rather than as a response to any decrease in bookings, according to Rosario Mariani, managing director for North America.

Paolo Rubino, general manager for North America for Alitalia, confirmed that the airline increased capacity by 38% and added capacity to Rome from Chicago and Los Angeles for the summer. He acknowledged that the conflict in Kosovo has had a psychological effect on some American visitors. However, he said, "we are not suffering much from that. On the contrary, in the month of April, Alitalia [traffic to Italy] grew by 12% from North America over the previous year," he said.

Hotel deals kick off in summer, ranging from value-added packages to deep discounts on room prices. "A lot of our properties cut the prices in August automatically," said Jesse Estevez, a company administrator at Small Italian Hotels, a division of Group Travel Enterprises, based in Columbia, Mo.

The company represents small one-, two- and three-star hotels throughout Italy as well as villas, castles, apartments and farmhouses. "In Rome, for example, we have a property called the Hotel Cesari that costs about $210 for a double room in high season and drops to $145 in August."

According to Estevez, the Kosovo conflict has had a negligible impact on bookings. He disputed the notion that Venice is a trouble spot, saying, "We have been booking Venice since the company was founded, and this is one of the busiest May and June periods I have ever seen."

At the other end of the spectrum, JDB Associates, which specializes in four- and five-star properties in Italy, also is experiencing a strong season. "Business has slowed a little from the boom levels of January to March, but overall our numbers are very strong this year," a spokeswoman said. "We have not had many cancellations and [have had] no group cancellations [since the start of the conflict]."

Summer specials offered by JDB include a package at the Grand Hotel Duomo in Milan, available in June, July and August, that includes a dinner with wine at the hotel's rooftop restaurant. The special is available with any room category. Rates begin at about $318 per room, per night, double; $412 for a junior suite. Prices include breakfast; 10% tax is additional.

A Summer in Florence package at the Hotel Helvetia & Bristol, available through JDB during July and August, offers a welcome bottle of spumante, one lunch per person at the Winter Garden restaurant, a daily English-language newspaper and late checkout. The special is valid for stays of four nights or more and costs from $306 for a superior double, $341 for a deluxe and $430 for a junior suite. Prices are per room, per night and do not include tax.

The Hotel dei Mellini in Rome has designed a three-night special for JDB clients, available in August. Guests receive accommodations with an upgrade when available, a daily buffet breakfasts, a welcome fruit basket and a gift. Also included are entrance to the Borghese Museum, a daily English-language newspaper, tax and service.

Children under age 12 share their parents' room at no additional charge. The rate, about $245 per night for two, also is available Nov. 26 to Dec. 23. All rooms are commissionable at 10%; 12% is paid on suites and an additional 2% for prepaid FIT bookings.

Other summer specials include the Gourmet Venice package at the Hotel Cipriani, available through the fall. The package includes accommodations, American breakfasts and the choice of two lunches or dinners at the hotel and two in other well-known restaurants in the city. The package costs about $3,870 per room, double. A honeymoon package, priced at about $3,367 per couple, also is available.

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