Operators mixed on autumn's sales outlook

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NEW YORK -- Traditionally, fall foliage tours are huge sellers for tour operators. But 2002 is a very different year.

While traditional fall tours bookings are lagging, some operators are reporting a few fall foliage successes.

Leading the pack is Summerlin, Nev.-based Maupintour, which said it has had a healthy response to a new program added this year, a fall foliage cruise-tour combination in partnership with Silversea Cruises.

"We're pleasantly surprised," said April Merenda, vice president of sales and marketing at Maupintour. "We're finding a lot of people this year are interested in cruising so we offered the opportunity to see the fall foliage along the New England shoreline."

The Grand Fall Foliage Cruise -- which combines one night each at the Sofitel New York and Montreal's Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel with an 11-night cruise of New England -- is aimed at making up for diminished interest in what is traditionally Maupintour's most popular fall foliage itinerary, the nine-night, escorted New England Charm.

The ship calls in Providence, R.I.; Boston; Bar Harbor, Maine; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; and Gaspe Peninsula and Quebec City, Quebec, with optional shore excursions in each port.

Most operators are counting on last-minute travelers to New England. Above, a scene in Chocorua, N.H. The package is priced at $6,795 per person, double. Bookings made with deposits by the end of August receive a $250 shipboard credit.

Maupintour's traditional fall foliage tours, however, have struggled, according to product manager Bruce Murdoch. The post-Sept. 11 late-booking trend may be a factor in keeping early-booking numbers down, he said.

The same is true at Mayflower Tours, where the most popular fall foliage program -- the New England and Cape Cod tour -- is behind its usual booking performance, according to John Stachnik, president of the Downers Grove, Ill.-based operator, largely because the firm's Midwestern clientele is reluctant to fly into Boston.

"Our New York, Boston and Washington gateways are not doing as well this year," he said. "We still have plenty of people, but not near the record numbers we used to have.

"We get 36% of our [overall] business in the months of September and October," he said, but New England is the company's bread and butter when it comes to foliage programs.

Rick Baron, national sales director of Tauck World Discovery, said the reluctance to fly also is affecting the international market that usually boosts the firm's foliage tour business.

Meanwhile, Northeast operators seem to be having a little more success.

Joan Molloy, senior vice president of marketing for Trafalgar Tours, said bookings for foliage tours are strong, and she believes the drive market is fueling the New York firm's Northeastern bookings.

New England-based Collette Vacations is experiencing relatively healthy demand for its five fall foliage itineraries, according to the company's chief financial officer, John Galvin. The program that is thriving the most uses the Providence, R.I., gateway near Collette's headquarters in Pawtucket.

"For us, farther away is more of a challenge," Galvin said. "People seem to want to stay a little closer to home."

Book it: Leaf peeping tours

Collette Vacations
Phone:
(800) 717-9191
Web:www.collettevacations.com

Maupintour
Phone:
(800) 255-6162
Web:www.maupintour.com

Mayflower Tours
Phone:
(800) 323-7604
Web:www.mayflowertours.com

Tauck World Discovery
Phone:
(800) 468-2825
Web:www.tauck.com

Trafalgar Tours
Phone:
(800) 854-0103
Web:www.trafalgartours.com

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