Trade tracks fallout from Kosovo crisis

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NEW YORK -- Several operators reported a slowdown in new Europe bookings following the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, particularly those with programs to destinations bordering the country, but cancellations have been few so far.

Operators expressed concern over the potential impact of the campaign -- and anti-American and anti-NATO demonstrations that followed in some European capitals -but most predicted that if the Kosovo conflict remains contained, peak-season travel to western Europe would not be affected.

The tourism destination most likely to feel an impact is Croatia, a country that emerged from its own war for independence to draw more than a half-dozen tour operators this year. Most programs concentrate on Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian coast on the Adriatic.

Central Holidays was set to launch a Croatia program this spring with seven itineraries, but a spokesman for the Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based firm said, "Nobody is going to book Croatia while there is war in a neighboring province, so the program is on hold."

The same goes for the Air Europe charter service Central Holidays was planning to operate to Split, Croatia, and Tivat, Montenegro, which is part of Yugoslavia.

If the crisis continues beyond April 16, the service, which represents the first direct flights from the U.S. to Croatia and Montenegro, might be postponed until next year, the company said.

Other operators to Croatia, however, including Atlas Travel, which is based in Dubrovnik and has an office in Washington, and GlobalQuest (formerly OdessaAmerica) in Mineola, N.Y., reported few cancellations.

Echoing many of the operators to the former Eastern Bloc, GlobalQuest's vice president of operations, Katja Ciprijan, said people who were planning to visit Croatia "are already sophisticated enough to choose an adventurous destination. They are informed and know there is no danger there."

Another destination involved in the Kosovo conflict is Italy, home to several NATO air bases near the Adriatic coast. "There was some concern [from clients] about Venice, which is in the region of the Aviano air base," said Vinicio Cantatore, vice president of Central Holidays.

"In fact, there are seven or eight air bases near Venice, and we were concerned that civilian air traffic might have been hampered, but it hasn't been," he said, adding that bookings have not been affected by the NATO action.

The Kosovo conflict has however, had an impact on tourism to Italy's Puglia region, where three air bases are located, according to Gino di Nallo, president of TourItalia in Chicago. "We have not yet had any cancellations, but I expect we will because the airports [Bari and Brindisi] are closed," said di Nallo.

Bookings to other countries bordering Yugoslavia, such as Romania and Bulgaria, are about 20% off where they should be, saod Cezary Cwintal, president of Balkan Holidays, but there have been only two cancellations.

Another NATO member, Turkey, does not border Yugoslavia but is a vocal supporter of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who are fleeing Serb aggression. Turkey is also dealing with the fallout from a rash of car bombings and terrorist threats against tourists by the Kurdistan Workers' Party.

Mazhar Pepemehmet, vice president and general manager of U.S. operations for Turkey's Pacha Tours here, said, "We have had some cancellations for Turkey. We can't pinpoint a [dramatic] drop in business yet since this has been going on for just a few days." He said it was too early to worry about the summer season yet.

On the other end of the spectrum is Greece, where protests against NATO reflect the country's ties to the Serbs, who share their Orthodox Christian faith.

Nick Athans, president of New York-based Tourlite, said, "The present state of affairs in Kosovo is causing many of the problems we all experienced during the Persian Gulf War. Bookings this week, traditionally part of a high booking period, are [less than] last year's. While last year we had 100 bookings a day, the past week we have had 50 bookings."

Another site of anti-NATO protests was Russia, where bookings are down "significantly," said Bob Drumm, president of General Tours in Keene, N.H. "Unfortunately, our actions in Kosovo are giving nationalists in Russia another lease on life. But I just came back from Moscow, and anti-American sentiment is not widespread. The Russians I spoke with said they have so many other problems, they are not worried about what's happening in Serbia."

Meanwhile, cruise lines were looking at alternatives for the Adriatic ports of Venice and Dubrovnik because of their proximity to Kosovo, but no published itineraries had been changed yet. Ships due in the Adriatic in the coming weeks include Holland America's Maasdam, and Cunard's Vistafjord, which are scheduled to make port calls in Venice and Dubrovnik in April.

Several lines, including Costa and Royal Caribbean, have ships scheduled to be in the Adriatic in May. In June and July, Peter Deilmann has river cruises scheduled to visit Belgrade on the Danube Princess and the Mozart. "We all hope the situation is over by then," a spokeswoman said.

Fran Golden, Linda Humphrey, Carla Hunt and Felicity Long contributed to this report.

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