Pow Wow delegates: Spain will be busy this summer

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MIAMI -- Spain will get a tourism boost this summer as vacationers flock to the western corner of the European continent, far from the troubles in Yugoslavia, according to some delegates at the Travel Industry Association's International Pow Wow here.

Serving travelers in the Benelux region, Roelof de Kroes, owner of the agency Players Travel in Laren, Netherlands, said his agency was booking record numbers of clients into Spanish resorts. "Many of these people would have gone to the beaches of Greece and Turkey, but that business virtually disappeared" after the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began and threats were made against tourists by the PKK terrorist organization in Turkey, he said.

The western Mediterranean in general will see increased arrivals because of a drop in traffic to the Adriatic and the east, some delegates said.

Zoran Ivanovic, a general sales agent in Belgium and Luxembourg for several cruise lines, including Costa, said he was seeing heightened demand for western Mediterranean cruises that start in Spain and visit ports such as St. Tropez and Cannes, France; Monaco, and Portofino and Genoa, Italy. "Cruises starting from Barcelona are particularly in demand," he said.

Gianni Miradoli, vice president of product development for Central Holidays in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., said outbound U.S. business to Spain had taken off after the Kosovo crisis. Like many other delegates here, he pointed to the fact that Spain's beaches were in demand particularly because travelers felt they were far away from Kosovo.

The firm's business to Spain is up 20%, Miradoli said, in contrast to bookings to Italy, which he estimated were down by about 10%.

Another of Europe's beach destinations, Croatia's Dalmatian coast, received a lot of sympathy from delegates, who had been impressed by the region's recovery after the war in Bosnia. Representatives of several Croatia-based travel agencies here said that current bookings to southern Croatia were down by about 30%, and hotel rates have been slashed by as much as 40%.

The Croatians here said that the region is heavily reliant on domestic tourism. "We are still going to travel there this summer because it is very safe domestically, and people from neighboring countries such as Slovenia and Austria will still come because they can drive and are not concerned about the safety of the air space," a spokesman for Kompas Travel in Zagreb said. "Our heaviest international traffic is always in August. So we hope that if the Kosovo situation is resolved by July, we might experience pent-up demand for Croatia," he said.

Pow Wow delegates also commented on the inbound market: An informal sampling of several dozen attendees who handle international arrivals to the U.S. said business this summer would be up by 5% to 12%.

A spokesman for Mayflower Tours in Downers Grove, Ill., reported that international arrivals were up by 12% this year for the firm's receptive services to Chicago. The U.K. and Germany were particularly strong, he noted.

J. Jason Mosquera, director of sales/international for the Hotel Inter-Continental here and in New York, was satisfied by a 12% growth from Europe for both hotels, with some exceptions. "German-speaking countries are sending less visitors because of the war in Kosovo. They're a bit nervous about going anywhere," he said.

"The Latin American market is still suffering from the fall of the Brazilian real and political instability in Venezuela. The whole leisure segment [from Latin America] is down about 12% for both of our properties, but corporate travel remains stable."

From the eastern Europe market, which still accounts for a very small percentage of total international arrivals to the U.S., operators agreed that growth was steady. The number of travelers from former Eastern Bloc countries who have enough disposable income for a leisure stay in the U.S. is limited, operators reported, but with the exception of Yugoslavia, economic factors were encouraging for the further emergence of the market.

Vaclav Zenisek, a partner in Prague-based Action Travel, said the number of Czechs coming to the U.S. with his firm will increase by 10% this year. "The financial situation for the newest NATO members, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, is more stable than it has ever been; investors are not running scared despite the proximity of Kosovo," he said.

Travel to the U.S. from the Netherlands is booming, according to de Kroes. He said that the destination was benefitting from an excess of air capacity. "For the first time that I can remember, there will actually be a summer fare war. Continental started service from Brussels this month and will add service to Zurich in June and Amsterdam in July plus additional service to London in August," he said. "This and an increase in service by several other carriers to Europe has made for the most competitive market in years."

Friedrich Oldenburg, sales manager, Germany, Austria and Switzerland in Frankfurt, agreed. "The biggest increases to Europe are coming from Continental and KLM/Northwest. Some of the worst fare wars right now are in the German-to-U.S. market; we [United] have 24 airlines competing with us right now."

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