NEW YORK -- The eruption of Sicily's Mount Etna, the largest
volcano in Europe, is proving a boon to the destination as visitors
flock to the natural light show, some on excursions arranged by
local hotels and tour companies.
"We have many people coming to stay one night and [take an]
excursion [to the mountain]," said Catena Federico, assistant
manager of the San Domenico Palace Hotel, Taormina. "I am sorry for
the little towns up near Etna, but to tell the truth, for us this
is good business."
Taormina, a seaside resort, and Catania, where the area's main
airport is located, are a safe distance away from the 2,000-degree
lava flows that began pouring down Etna two weeks ago, destroying
several ski lifts, buildings and cable car stations.
At press time, the largest flow -- about 500 feet wide -- had
stopped within 150 feet of Refugio Sapienza, a large mountainside
Fontanarossa Airport at Catania, about 15 miles from Etna, has
closed for brief intervals as volcanic ash was cleared from
According to the Italian Government Tourist Board in New York,
requests for reservations in Sicily have jumped since the initial
One local hotelier, Alex Marcovich, general manager of the
Catania Sheraton, said the eruption "has helped us increase
bookings by a few percentage points."
On the downside, some cautious travelers are shying away. The
Ipanema Hotel in Taormina, for example, is about 20 miles from the
volcano, but according to a spokeswoman, "Some who already had
reservations called asking if it's safe to come. They are a little
afraid, but there's also a lot more interest."
The good times may last a while longer, according to scientists,
as Etna's lava flows and minor eruptions could continue for weeks
or months. "This one started big and seems to be staying big," said
Dr. Ken Hon of the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Some U.S. agents and tour operators are eyeing the eruption as a
unique sales opportunity amid the economic doldrums dampering
leisure spending by Americans.
"Our tours to Sicily haven't filled well this year, which I
blame on the economy," said retailer Patty Absher, owner of Great
Travels in Washington. "But I am thinking that Etna may stir up
Grace Cutri, an Italy specialist and owner of DC Travel Agency,
Jersey City, N.J., sees only positives. "I don't think business
will be affected negatively by Etna at all," she said.
Cutri also considered the eruption a selling point. "I have
clients arriving there Aug. 14," she said. "I do hope they stop by
and see Etna."
Tour operator and Italy specialist Perillo Tours, based in
Woodcliff Lake, N.J., said it might consider incorporating Etna
more prominently in tours should the volcano show staying
"This eruption has turned out to be a thrill for our clients,"
said Mario Perillo, president. "If it continues until we write our
2002 brochure, we may add a new picture or two to illustrate the
glory of Etna."
Dawn Bosco, owner of tour operator Amelia International in
Hicksville, N.Y., has already altered her tour itineraries.
"We've turned our daytime tours of Etna into evening excursions,
a sort of nighttime lava spectacular," she explained. "This
eruption is a real positive."
According to a spokesman at the Italian tourist board in New
York, some Sicilian tour operators are considering bringing
tourists closer to the lava flows as they begin to cool.
An unwise move, cautioned scientists, who advise sightseeing
from afar when admiring a volcano such as Etna, whose flows can
tower tens of feet high.
"I would not recommend [getting too close]," said Dr. Stephen
McNutt, professor of volcano seismology at the University of Alaska
in Fairbanks. "Lava flows are unstable features, and rocks and
pieces can fall without warning."
However, the volcano is spectacular even from Taormina, some 20
miles distant and on the northern slope, which faces away from the
main lava eruptions, said the San Domenico Palace Hotel's
"This is really fantastic; it's such a natural beautiful show
for the people coming to see the mountain," she said.
Experts: Don't get too close
s tourists flock to witness
Sicily's Mount Etna erupt and belch lava, scientists cautioned
visitors to keep a respectful distance but downplayed any danger to
major population or tourism centers.
The 10,860-foot volcano has been putting on its biggest show
since 1992, but the University of Hawaii's Dr. Ken Hon warned, "you
want to stand back at least a few hundred yards from any lava flow.
Big rocks get thrown out and could kill someone."
"The flows are so large, with 'snouts' [leading edges] up to 500
feet across, that the view even from afar is spectacular," he
There is little danger of a second violent eruption that could
flatten the countryside, according to Dr. Stephen McNutt of the
University of Alaska in Fairbanks, so hotels in Catania and
Taormina are safe.
Mount Etna's upper reaches could continue to visibly erupt for
years, though the main, destructive lava flow should dry up in
weeks or months. "Etna can't keep pouring out this volume of lava
indefinitely," explained McNutt. "It simply uses up the volcano's