Mideast crisis: Travel news update

NEW YORK -- Two cruise lines altered itineraries of ships slated to call at Middle Eastern ports after the U.S. State Department imposed a travel warning against Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and updated its warning on Yemen.

Norwegian Cruise Line dropped Ashdod and Haifa, Israel, from the Norwegian Dream's 11-day Istanbul to Athens cruise departing Oct. 15. The vessel, which was scheduled to call at the two ports on Oct. 19 and 20, instead will visit the Greek ports of Mykonos and Larnaca.

Radisson Seven Seas Cruises' Song of Flower dropped Aden and Hodeidah, Yemen, from a 16-day cruise scheduled to sail from Pireaus, Greece, to Muscat, Oman, on Oct. 30. The ship instead will offer an extended port call and land package in Safaga, Egypt.

While tourism to the Middle East could be poised for a rebound following the cease-fire agreement reached on Oct. 17 in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt, three weeks of violence have taken a toll on travel to certain parts of the region.

The Israeli Ministry of Tourism reported that tourists cannot access the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City.

Additionally, Israeli soldiers at checkpoints along access roads to Jericho and Bethlehem were stopping people from entering those cities, which are under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

In the U.S., agents at St. Louis-based Maritz Travel Co. said they worked quickly to reroute a group of 50 skittish business travelers out of the Middle East.

A client of the firm's meetings division, which Maritz declined to name, was on a Nile River cruise in Egypt when the State Department issued its warning.

The group was supposed to spend three days in Cairo after the cruise but opted to cut the trip short, bypass Cairo and head for Paris, said John Luby, corporate vice president of groups and meetings.

The Middle East crisis also prompted the closure of the Nazareth Renaissance hotel due to a lack of business.

According to Raphy Weiner, president of HEI Hotels, which manages three Marriott and Renaissance hotels in Israel, guests from the Nazareth Renaissance were transfered to the Nazareth Marriott, located in a different part of the city.

Haim Ariel, the New York-based director of marketing sales, North America, for the Dans of Israel Hotels and Resorts, said he was optimistic in a market that "has had its ups and downs" in the past.

The Israeli chain, which operates 12 properties around the country, three in Jerusalem, did not close any hotels, but there has been a cancellation rate of up to 50% for stays through Nov. 10 at some properties.

Ariel said there has been some freezing of advertising to save costs but the chain is trying to be flexible on cancellation fees.

Meanwhile, the Israel Ministry of Tourism said it is not suspending its marketing campaigns, according to Yehuda Shen, deputy tourism commissioner for North America.

Shen said on Oct. 16 that he was "misquoted" in an earlier Travel Weekly report that stated Israel had suspended destination advertising.

Shuly Kustanowitz, Jerry Limone, Brian Major and Donna Tunney contributed to this report.

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