NEW YORK -- In the aftermath of a car bomb in Northern Ireland that killed 28 people, including two tourists, officials expressed hope that any negative business impact will be limited.

"We have had some calls from people reconsidering their itineraries and seeking advice, and we are telling them that security in Northern Ireland will be heightened," a spokeswoman for the Irish Tourist Board said.

An IRA splinter group called the Real IRA was thought to be responsible for the bombing, apparently carried out in retaliation against the May 22 unification accord.

"As a result of the peace process, greater numbers of tourists have been going to Northern Ireland and adding Northern Ireland to visits to the [Republic] of Ireland," the spokeswoman said.

James Murphy, president of Brendan Tours in Van Nuys, Calif., said his firm has "seen no negative reaction in terms of bookings, and we would not expect any. People seem to have become used to the idea that there are problems in the north of Ireland, and it will become a difficulty for us only if there is a second and a third [violent incident]." Murphy added that all of the company's tours that include Northern Ireland are fully booked through September.

More cautious was Kathy Gorman, vice president of New York-based Lismore Tours and Lismore Travel, a tour operator and travel agency. "We [operate] two motorcoach itineraries in Northern Ireland from May to September, and we are considering canceling or redirecting our departures for September," she said. "[The bombing] is on too large a scale for us not to react in some way, and who knows what could happen next?"

Brian Twomey, president of O'Connor Fairways Travel in New York, reported no cancellations but said, "There might be a shift, with people flying into Shannon instead of Belfast. "We have had some hesitance but no cancellations as yet," noted Bert Accomando, owner of Scepter Charters, Ozone Park, Queens, N.Y., which operates four flights a week from New York to Ireland. "A couple of people have called with concerns, but we are assuring them that everything is under control."

Nancy Woodrow, vice president of Travel Designs, Fairfax, Va., said that many of her clients visit Ireland on FITs. "We have had no calls, but we have no way of knowing how the bombing might affect the itinerary of people touring by car."

Calling the explosion "not unexpected," Brian Stack, president of CIE Tours in Morristown, N.J., admitted "we have no idea" what the effect will be on tourism. He added, however, that the company's telephones were "ringing off the hook" in response to ads placed over the weekend in the consumer press.

Roy Bailie, chairman of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, condemned the bombing but refused to speculate on its business impact.

Noting that 1997 was a record year for travel to Britain, the British Tourist Authority issued a statement deploring the bombing and expressing confidence in the overall security of the country.

The statement said, "The BTA hopes that overseas visitors will see it as an isolated incident and thus continue to regard Britain as a hospitable, safe and friendly place to visit."

The Aug. 15 explosion caused the highest death toll in nearly 30 years of violence, including, for the first time, two foreign visitors, sources said. The tourists were part of a group of 28 Spanish schoolchildren and teachers who had been visiting the Ulster-American Folk Park nearby.

The blast took place in Omagh, a quiet market town of about 20,000 inhabitants located about 50 miles from Belfast and off the main tourist routes.

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI