Katrina leaves agencies, operators among the victims

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Among Hurricane Katrinas victims are an unknown number of small businesses in the region, including travel agencies, tour operators and local attractions that have not been heard from, some of which may disappear.

In the wake of the storm, ARC activated a toll-free hot line -- (800) 723-2721 -- for affected agencies along the Gulf Coast, but initially it only heard from agencies on the periphery of the devastation.

The airlines estimate that about 240 agency locations in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi were adversely affected, an estimate based on the agencies geographic locations and the fact that they had not signed off on their sales reports by the Tuesday midnight deadline.

ARC said it will work with agencies for filing extensions and even relocation applications, with fees waived.

ASTA, taking the role of facilitator, is asking agencies needing assistance, and those offering aid, to contact the organization at [email protected] or by calling (800) ASK-ASTA. The Society asked those with requests to be as specific as possible and to provide contact information.

The Society will send regular alerts to members detailing the requests; similarly, the requests will be posted on its Web site. ASTA also is posting regular updates on its Web site reporting how airlines, cruise lines, tour operators and other industry segments are coping.

Meanwhile, the trade group urged every travel seller and travel company to donate generously, remembering that they all have benefited from tourism to the Gulf Coast and especially to New Orleans.

Contributors can visit the About ASTA section of the Web site to donate via the Red Cross.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel reported that by the end of day Wednesday, it had heard from 10 of its 11 franchise locations in affected areas. At least two of those locations in the hardest-hit areas are closed indefinitely, and several more owners said their offices had been damaged.

As many as 10 of Carlsons Results Travel franchisee locations are presumed damaged. At least one owner is forwarding calls to her home. A franchisee in Florida has offered the use of her office space to any needy Carlson agencies.

On the corporate travel side, one Carlson on-site location is under water in New Orleans, said Craig Thompson, vice president, government markets. He said a staffer from that site reached safety in Houston. Calls to two other Louisiana locations were being rerouted to other offices.

  National Tour Association president Hank Phillips said, For us, this goes way deeper than just business. We know these people well on a personal basis. He added that the associations most valuable service is assuring people that their friends are OK.

We are telling members to use our forums to send personal messages, to communicate their feelings ... and we are using this for members to tell us they are safe. ... We will post those reports on the site, he said.

He said NTA was ahead of its members ability to communicate in many cases, but it is prepared to post updated business information for any member that relocates.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin at [email protected].

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